No better words could be used to define her: the queen of rock and roll. Nothing less would fit. Tina Turner has died this Wednesday at the age of 83, her spokesperson has confirmed. “Tina Turner, the ‘Queen of Rock’n Roll’ has died peacefully today at the age of 83 after a long illness in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland. With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model.” She had been retired since 2013 and suffered from intestinal cancer, diagnosed in 2016, and had had a kidney transplant in 2017.
It is difficult to find in rock history a singer so influential, popular and with such a complicated life. The list of obstacles she faced is long: an unhappy childhood, abandonment, a violent marriage, a stalled career, financial ruin, the premature death of members of my family and multiple illnesses, as she described in the introduction to her memoir, Happiness Is Born From You, which she published in 2021. But she pulled through, stumbling yet strengthened and creating a style of her own that paved the way for black female rock singers and many white stars. Mick Jagger himself has acknowledged that he designed his way of dominating an audience by watching Turner move on stage.
She also defied sexual convention. In the 1960s, when she began her career with Ike Turner, her presence was volcanic, exuberant. There she began to forge her style, inherited from gospel, soul and incipient rock. At the time, Turner enjoyed and suffered the performances while hiding the tragedy of an abusive marriage. The physical and psychological torture to which she was subjected by Ike Turner, her husband since 1962, led to a suicide attempt. She swallowed a handful of pills and said she “felt disappointed” when she woke up.
Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, and grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee. As she narrates in the her memoir, she was delivered in a windowless basement in the colored women’s maternity ward at the county hospital and growing up she could tell that her mother didn’t love her as she loved her sister. A heavy burden for a little girl, she admitted in that book.
She sang in her hometown church choir and in the early sixties joined Ike Turner’s band. Right away, Ike saw Tina’s potential and began to groom her for success, exerting physical and psychological control. The hits, meanwhile, began to come, with songs like A Fool in Love. But the couple’s forte was live performances, where Tina, as she later confessed, unleashed all her rage at the oppression she experienced away from the spotlight. By the seventies, Ike and Tina Turner had become the preferred opening act for the white rock stars.
The duo and their band performed before the Rolling Stones, Elton John and The Who. There was no better show to liven up an audience. At the end of the seventies, Tina managed to get a divorce. On the one hand she was relieved, but on the other hand she had to start all over again, as Ike had the legal affairs well tied up and put all the obstacles in her way so that she could not relaunch her career. In those hard years she received support from David Bowie and Keith Richards, who idolized her.
And in the eighties, she was reborn. She changed her sound, adapted to the times and delivered sparklingly produced pop pieces that reached the top of the charts. Tina Turner had adapted to the times and entered the synthesizer sound of the eighties, but bringing to the table her torrent of vocals, aching and hungry, and her live performances that felt like the stage was going to catch on fire. It was then that that image of her dressed in a light leather suit, long legs elevated on heels and a feline mane became iconic.
When she turned 60 and with the release of her album Twenty Four Seven (1999), she started a low-intensity retirement during the following years. Until 2013 when her presence was merely testimonial. She spent many years of her life in Switzerland, where she has died, and had to see how her loved ones faded around her. Most tragic was the death of two of his sons: the eldest, Craig, committed suicide in 2018 at 59, and the youngest, Ron, died of complications from colon cancer in 2022 at 62.
Tina Turner said in an interview with Rolling Stone that throughout her life she sought for respect, the respect she had lost at a certain stage, when she was painfully subjected to violence or when her career declined in the late seventies. Since many years ago she had the respect of the world. Today her voice sounds more fierce than ever.
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