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In Memorium: Tina Turner

On May 24, the Queen of Rock and Roll, Tina Turner, passed away at the age of 83 after a long-term illness. In the wake of her passing, many around the world who her music has touched have taken the time to express their admiration and gratitude for the music she created and the path she forged for other women in the music industry. 

Born in Tennessee, Turner (birth name Anna Mae Bullock) grew up in the unincorporated community of Nutbush and came from the humblest of beginnings. Later in life, she would recall picking cotton as a child and experiencing familial upheaval due to the impacts of the Second World War. In Tennessee, she began to sing in Baptist church choirs and discovered her enthusiasm for performing.

In 1957 Tina first met her future husband and long-time collaborator, Ike Turner, as he performed with his band Kings of Rhythm at the Manhattan Club in East St Louis. There, she began to perform across the area in small venues with Ike and developed her unique sound and perspective as an artist. In 1960 released her first single, “A Fool In Love”, and continued to feature on various Billboard charts into the 1970s.

During the 1960s, Tina entered a relationship with Ike Turner and entered a common law marriage with him in 1962. While professionally very successful, the relationship was fraught with abuse and was subject to significant degrees of media scrutiny. Ike would later go on to admit to being very violent towards Tina. In 1976 she filed for divorce from Ike, leaving him abruptly before taking a flight with only $0.36 in her pocket. Their divorce was finalised in 1978 but left Tina with limited ownership of the publishing rights to her work with Ike and essentially bankrupt, leading her to receive food stamps and play small clubs to recoup finances. The two never reconciled and remained out of contact with one another until Ike’s death in 2007. 

As a solo artist Tina was able to take control of her narrative and reach new feats professionally, spawning several iconic songs, including “The Best”, “Proud Mary”, “What’s Love Got to Do with It”, and “Private Dancer”. During the 1980s, she was able to experience a significant career resurgence that solidified her as a solo household name, and at this time, she started to be known as the Queen of Rock and Roll. In the 1980s, she also embarked on a new direction for her career by starring in various films, the most notable of which was Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Throughout her career, Tina remained a beacon for both the black community and the LGBTQ+ community, who quickly adopted her as one of their icons. Her consummate talent on stage, distinct gravelly vocals, and fearlessness meant her music and story resonated with millions worldwide. Countless artists, including Beyoncé, Lizzo, Janet Jackson, and Kelly Clarkson, have all professed to have been heavily influenced by Tuner and feel she paved the way in music for them to follow. 

Tina spent the latter years of her life in Switzerland, where she became a Swiss Citizen in 2013, relinquishing her American Citizenship. In her later life, she wrote a collection of books, some inspired by her adopted Nichiren Buddhist faith and the story of her life. She married her longtime partner, Erwin Bach, in 2013 after 27 years together and remained with him until her death. Her legacy is one of immense cultural impact. She challenged expectations of black women in music during her life and redefined what it meant to be a rock musician in mainstream media. Tina Turner was a true tour de force on the stage and, to many, embodied what it meant to be a showstopping entertainer.