Anna Mae Bullock (26 November 1939 – 24 May 2023)
Tina Turner, who came to be known as "The Queen of Rock and Roll" will always be synonymous with survival and come back. After finding the courage to walk out on her violent husband, also risking the destruction of her show business career, she returned to prominence with a solo career that made her one of the most successful solo performers of all time.
Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in Brownsville, Tennessee. The youngest daughter of Floyd Richard Bullock, a Baptist Deacon and his wife Zelma Priscilla (née Currie), a factory worker. The family lived in the nearby rural community of Nutbush. Her father was a sharecropper supervisor and as a young girl Bullock would pick cotton with her family. Despite her professional name Tina Turner in later life, she was always known as Ann by friends and family. She was separated from her older sisters during World War II when her family relocated to Knoxville and she was sent to her religious grandparents before returning to Knoxville after the war. When she was just 11 her mother abruptly ran out on the family, to escape the abusive relationship with Floyd. Two years after her mother escaped to St. Louis, Floyd remarried and the family relocated to Detroit. Two of the three sisters were sent to live with their maternal grandmother in Brownsville, Tennessee.
She worked in domestic employment in her teens, and it was while she was working with the Henderson family that she was informed that her half sister Evelyn had died in a car crash with her cousins Margaret and Vela. At the age of 16, her grandmother died and after high school she started work as a nurse's aide at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
The Bullock sisters often went out in St. Louis and it was on one such night out that they first saw Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm at the Manhattan Club. Her sister Alline was dating Eugene Washington, the drummer and Ann got romantically involved with the saxophone player Raymond Hill. Ann was impressed by Turner's abilities and asked if he would let her sing in his band even though she knew that few women had ever sung with him. Turner said he would call her but never did but in 1957 she was handed the microphone by Eugene Washington and sang the B.B. King ballad You Know I Love You in an intermission. Ike invited her to perform regularly on the spot. She became a featured vocalist with his band and he helped her develop vocal control. She performed and recorded under the name Little Ann. She was living with Hill and Turner and fell pregnant but her relationship with Hill ended as he broke his ankle and returned to Clarksdale leaving Ann as a single parent. Her son Craig was born in August 1958.
The relationship with Ike was merely platonic until 1960. At the time their relationship began, Ike was in a relationship with Lorraine Taylor.
In 1960 Ike Turner wrote A Fool in Love for Art Lassiter. Bullock was scheduled to sing backing vocals but when Lassiter never showed up Bullock suggested using the studio time with her singing lead vocals. He intended to replace her vocals at a later date but was convinced by local DJ Dave Dixon to send the tape as was to Sue Records president Juggy Murray. He was entranced, later saying the vocals sounded like "screaming dirt. It was a funky sound," Murray bought the track, paid Turner a $25,000 advance and convinced him to make Bullock the lead performer. At this moment Ike renamed her Tina Turner. He was inspired by Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Nyoka the Jungle Girl to craft her on stage persona. Turner added his surname and trademarked the name so if Bullock quit like previous singers, he could replace her with another "Tina Turner". After the recording of A Fool in Love "Tina" told Ike she wanted to finish their romantic relationship. He responded by hitting her in the head with a wooden shoe stretcher. She would later recall that this was the first time he had "instilled fear" in her, but it was the beginning of a cycle of violence and abuse that was to become indelibly linked with the Tina Turner story.
In July 1960 A Fool in Love was released and a phenomenon was born. As the song rocketed up to 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and even reached 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, Ike repackaged his group into the Ike and Tina Revue. The Kings of Rhythm was combined with a girl group, the Ikettes. The group went on a punishing touring schedule and competed with the James Brown Revue as a spectacle. The reputation built so quickly that they were able to perform in front of desegregated audiences.
Ike and Tina had a son, Ronnie, in October 1960 and in 1961 the duo released It's Gonna Work Out Fine which reached 14 on the Hot 100 and 2 on the R&B chart and even earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock and Roll Performance. The couple moved to L.A and were then married in Tijuana in 1962. The family unit was made of Tina's sons Craig and Ronnie and Ike's two sons with Lorraine, Ike Jnr. and Michael.
The hits continued to come with Idolize You, Poor Fool and Tra La La La La and Tina Turner released her first single credited as a solo artist with Too Many Ties That Bind/We Need an Understanding in 1964 on Ike's Sonja Records. The duo signed to Loma Records, a Warner Brothers subsidiary in 1964 where they produced their first charting album Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show, reaching number 8 on the Billboard Hot R&B LP chart in February 1965.
Tina Turner broke through into the mainstream with TV appearances and after Phil Spector attended their show he invited them to appear in the 1966 filmed concert The Big T.N.T Show.
Into the Mainstream
Spector was impressed by their performance and was eager to work with Turner. Careful negotiations with Ike and the head of Lorma resulted in Spector offering $20,000 to sign them to Phillies in April 1966. Spector made the brave decision to refuse to allow Ike in the studio as he worked on the single River Deep - Mountain High which was released in May 1966 and reached No. 1 in Spain and 3 in the UK despite only charting at 88 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It is widely considered as probably the best work both Turner and Spector ever did. The UK exposure garnered them a slot on the Rolling Stones UK Tour that year and then Tina Turner became the first female artist and the first black artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
The duo changed labels once again, signing with Blue Thumb Records in 1968. The albums they produced generated such success that the Revue headlined in Las Vegas, with their shows attended by many stars of music including David Bowie, Cher, Ray Charles, Elton John and Elvis Presley. Despite the dizzying success on stage, behind closed doors things were decidedly uncomfortable. Ike Turner would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in later life and Tina Turner had often talked about his unpredictability when referring to life with Ike in later years. He was abusive and unfaithful throughout their marriage and in 1968 She attempted suicide with an overdose of Valium pills. Ike had also developed an extensive cocaine habit and in her autobiography she tells of how he would beat her, burned her with cigarettes and scalded her with hot coffee.
Meanwhile, a further invitation from the Rolling Stones to join them on their 1969 US tour led to appearances on on The Ed Sullivan Show, Playboy After Dark and The Andy Williams Show. As the new decade began the duo released two new albums, Come Together and Workin' Together which saw them expand their repertoire to rock.
Their biggest hit, the cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary was released in early 1971, winning a Grammy and selling over a million copies. Their next album went gold and in 1972 they opened Bolic Sound, their own recording studio. Turner began to write more songs and their 1973 hit Nutbush City Limits, harking back to her childhood home, built their reputation further in Europe. 1974 saw her release her first solo album and yet another Grammy nomination and she filmed her part for the rock opera Tommy in London. A further solo album included a cover of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love.
Ike's addiction to cocaine had become a serious problem by the mid seventies and as the couple were en route to a hotel in Dallas they got into a physical altercation and Turner fled. She had 36 cents in her pocket and a Mobil gas card. She filed for divorce on July 27 and it was finalized in March 1979. The settlement enabled her to keep her stage name but Ike also made the audacious claim that they were never really married as he was married to another woman at the time and that Tina's real name was Martha Nell Bullock not Anna Mae Bullock.
Tina stayed with friends and survived on food stamps, she earned money from TV performances and had to tour to settle legal fees and debts as the consequence of cancelled Ike and Turner shows. The solo albums she released in the late 70s performed poorly. In 1979 she teamed up with Roger Davies as a manager and a controversial five week tour of apartheid South Africa followed. A move which she later said she regretted.
She opened once more for the Rolling Stones on their 1981 American Tour and her success on the European dance scene with a cover of Temptations song Ball of Confusion saw her become the first black American artist to appear on emerging music TV channel MTV. Despite this, she was rapidly becoming considered a nostalgia act, playing hotels and clubs and Capitol Records informed her they would not be renewing her contract in 1983. David Bowie was also on Capitol Records at the time and had been invited to dinner with the executives to celebrate his new deal. When he heard of the plan to ditch Turner he rejected their invitation telling them that he would rather go and watch his favourite singer perform. A company executive attended Turner's show with Bowie and when he witnessed the performance and the crowd reaction he convinced the company to change their attitude to the singer. Turner always credited Bowie with the turn around in her career and the subsequent Private Dancer album that was released in 1984 transformed her to a global superstar in her own right.
Private Dancer went five times Platinum in the States and sold 10 million worldwide. The single What's Love Got to Do With It provided her only Billboard 100 number 1. The song had been recorded by British Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz after being offered to Cliff Richard and Donna Summer. It became Turner's best selling single of her career. Critic Mark Millan described it almost perfectly as "three minutes and 48 seconds of pop perfection...soft synth-driven track countered by Turner's battle weary voice, barely hiding the cynic in her...(it)... reeks of attitude." Turner reflected on the importance of Private Dancer to her success when she spoke on Larry King Live in 1997 Private Dancer was the beginning of my success in England and basically Europe has been very supportive of my music. [...] [I am] not as big as Madonna[in the United States]. I'm as big as Madonna in Europe. I'm as big as, in some places [in Europe], as the Rolling Stones She recorded a duet with Bowie, won three Grammys and then in February 1985 set out on a Private Dancer world tour. Before the year was out she had recorded vocals on the USA for Africa benefit single, travelled to Australia to star opposite Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome also providing two tracks for the soundtrack, performed at Live Aid alongside Mick Jagger, released a duet with Bryan Adams and won an MTV Video Music Award for best Stage Performance.
Her whirlwind success continued in 1986 with another global smash album, Break Every Rule. She also released her autobiography I, Tina before the album launch, won another Grammy and got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. EMI sent Erwin Bach to greet Turner at Dusseldorf Airport during her tour and the pair became a couple later that year.
She went on a world tour once again in 1987 and her show in Rio, Brazil in January 1988 was a world record breaking concert audience at the time with approximately 180,000 people. She showed no signs of slowing down and released Tina Live in Europe in April 1988 which won yet another Grammy and in 1989 the album Foreign Affair reached number 1 in 8 countries and included one of her most well known songs, The Best!
Into the 90s
Turner opened the new decade with her European tour which broke the attendance record previously held by the Rolling Stones and her greatest hits compilation Simply the Best sold seven million copies worldwide, going 8 times platinum in the UK. In 1991 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her ex husband Ike. He was in prison at the time and Tina did not attend. Phil Spector accepted the award on her behalf.
In 1993 the semi-autobiographical film What's Love Got to Do with It was released with a Best Actress and Best Actor nomination for the Oscars. A single I Don't Wanna Fight from the film was a top ten hit in the US and UK and she embarked on yet another extensive tour, the What's Love? tour in the same year. In 1995 she released GoldenEye, the theme for the James Bond film written by Bono and the Edge of U2.
In 1996 she released her album Wildest dreams and in September 1999 as she turned sixty she released her final solo album Twenty Four Seven. The tour was originally planned to be done with Elton John but after a disagreement over the piano arrangement for Proud Mary, the idea was shelved and she. At the Zurich date of the tour in July 2000 she announced she would retire at the end of the tour. The tour became the biggest grossing tour of 2000.
Despite this announcement, in November 2004 All the Best a greatest hits album was released to huge global success. Ike Turner passed away on December 12 2007. Turner issued a brief statement through a spokesperson : "Tina hasn't had any contact with Ike in more than 30 years. No further comment will be made."
Turner returned to the stage at the Grammys in 2008 with Beyoncé. Before the year was out she was back on the road for her 50th Anniversary Tour, becoming one the greatest selling tours of all time. She then officially retired in 2009.
Tina Turner founded the Beyond Foundation with Swiss Christian musician Regula Curti and Swiss Tibetan Buddhist Dechen Shak-Dagsay in 2009 to promote global collaboration in music. They released four albums of uplifting spiritual music. In April 2010, The Best returned to number 9 in the UK singles chart, spearheaded by a Glasgow Rangers football club campaign making Turner the first female artist to score top 40 hits in six consecutive decades. The Beyond project's second album recharted in Switzerland in 2011 Turner made appearances on TV in Switzerland and Germany. She then became the oldest person to feature on the cover of Vogue aged 73.
In 2013 she applied for Swiss citizenship, relinquishing her US citizenship. She passed a test in German language and Swiss history and was issued a Swiss passport on April 22 2013. In July later that year, after 27 years together, Turner and Bach were finally married.
In late 2016 Turner announced she was working on a musical of her life story which opened in April 2018 and her second memoir My Love Story was released that year as she also won a Grammy lifetime achievement award. Her son Craig Raymond Turner was found dead from apparent suicide in July 2018. Her memoir revealed that she had been living with high blood pressure since 1978 which had resulted in kidney failure. It was also revealed that three weeks after her marriage to Bach she suffered a stroke and had to learn how to walk again. She was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2016 and with her kidney failure becoming acute she was urged to start dialysis. Her husband Bach eventually persuaded her to accept the donation of one of his kidneys. The transplant was carried out in April 2017.
In 2020 a remix of What's Love Got to Do With It confirmed that she was the first artist to chart in the UK top 40 across seven consecutive decades. In 2020 her third book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good was released. Co written with Taro Gold and Regula Curti it was an Amazon editors pick for Best NonFiction of 2020.
In 2021 she sold the rights to her music for an estimate $50 million and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame as a solo artist, which she graciously accepted via satellite from her home in Zürich, Switzerland. Her son Ronnie had passed away from complications related to colon cancer in December 2022. Turner was estranged from her sons after the divorce from Ike.
Her powerful and raspy voice combined with a magnetic stage presence made Turner into one of the biggest icons of popular culture for over half a century. She inspired many with her resolute ability to survive not just her natural talent. Her renaissance as a solo artist was a quite remarkable feat. She was praised by many as a woman of strength and relentless energy. In 2013 she told German Vogue "I will never give in to old age until I'm old...and I'm not old yet."
The list of those who have paid tribute to the star is quite astonishing. Beyoncé made an emotional tribute saying "If you are a fan of mine, you’re a fan of Tina Turner. I wouldn’t be on this stage without Tina Turner". Angela Bassett, the actress who played her in the 1993 biopic stated "How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world?...Tina Turner showed others who lived in fear what a beautiful future filled with love, compassion, and freedom should look like.”
Mick Jagger spoke of the help she gave him when he was young, Dionne Warwick mourned a longtime friend as Mariah Carey, Oprah Winfrey, Niomi Campbell, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, Bryan Adams, Elton John, Madonna, Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton, American Presidents and even King Charles III all led the tributes to the inspirational performer.
Turner passed away after years of illness on May 24 2023. She is survived by Erwin and two sons, Ike Jr and Michael, from Ike’s first marriage.