An appreciation for Tina Turner, the queen of rock and roll

Tina Turner concert in Hamburg, Germany in 1971

On May 24, 2023, “Queen of Rock and Roll” Tina Turner passed away. Her music still radiates in the hearts of her fans worldwide. Her journey inspired millions to speak out about domestic abuse, and empowered many women across the world to be themselves fearlessly. 

Turner was not born into stardom. She had to fight for it, tooth and nail. Born Anna Mae Bullock to sharecroppers in Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner had a hard and depressing childhood. 

“My father was a sharecropper and actually when I grew up, I worked in the fields picking cotton, and I always dreamed of being an actress while in the fields,” Turner told ABC News in 1982. “I hated that. I didn’t like it at all!” 

After being kicked out of the house at 15, Turner moved to St. Louis. It was there that she met Ike Turner and his band, The Kings of Rhythm. While she was only performing during intermission and as a backup singer, it had always been Turner’s dream to be the lead vocalist of the group. Ike Turner had written a song titled “A Fool In Love”— which would later become Tina Turner’s debut single, charting at number two on the Billboard Hot R&B Sides—but the person he wrote it for, Art Lassiter, was a no-show. Dying to perform, Tina Turner suggested that she sing it. This demo would be played at the Club Imperial at St. Louis, gaining immediate recognition by Sue Records president Juggy Murray, who offered a $20,000 advance for the rights to the song. Ike Turner, who saw the potential before his eyes, decided to give Turner her stage name, “Tina Turner.” 

Having children together and finally marrying in 1962, Ike and Tina Turner created some of the most memorable songs. Hits like “Proud Mary,” “Nutbush City Limits,” and “River Deep – Mountain High” were sung in stadiums across the world, and were often more popular in Europe than they were in America. “Proud Mary” starts out slow and spoken, then blasts through a second time with power and the energy of a rhythm guitar and hi-hats. “Nutbush City Limits” depicts the rural life of the town Tina Turner grew up in. The song is credited with starting a line dancing tradition in Australia, sparking the dance “The Nutbush.” Though many people adore the song now, “River Deep – Mountain High” was originally unsuccessful in the United States, even though it was produced by the critically acclaimed producer Phil Spector. 

Her name was in lights and her songs were screamed at the top of the audiences’ lungs. But past the facade of fame and fortune, she was suffering

It seemed that Turner had it all. She was a star. Her name was in lights and her songs were screamed at the top of the audiences’ lungs. But past the facade of fame and fortune, she was suffering. She suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her husband for about 20 years. “I did as I was told,” Turner said in a 1982 ABC News interview. “It’s almost as if you can put yourself in the position of always being told, and it just doesn’t feel good all the time to be under someone’s hand.” 

She cared about her kids and her career but had to live under the abusive control of her husband. “I felt that I couldn’t leave because too many things would be destroyed,” Turner said. “I stayed because I cared. And when the time actually arrived I had no longer cared because I was living death anyway.”

Tina left Ike Turner in 1976 and their divorce finalized in 1986, leaving Tina penniless. She opened up about her domestic abuse, bringing national attention to a taboo subject. This injustice faced by women across the world, highlighted by Turner, was finally being noticed. Women started to come forward with stories about the abuse because Turner broke the silence. She made those suffering feel not alone, and told victims that they shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. After leaving Ike, Tina Turner became a global phenomenon. In 1985, at the 27th annual Grammys, she won Song of the Year and Record of the Year, as well as Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her smash hit “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” In 1988, she performed to a crowd of 188,000 in Rio de Janeiro on her Break Every Rule World Tour. She went on to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not once, but twice. The first time was in 1991, alongside her ex-husband. In 2021, after the success of the Broadway musical “TINA: The Tina Turner Musical,” Tina Turner was inducted again. From becoming the first woman and Black musician to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967 to being honored by the Kennedy Center in 2005 for her lifetime of contributions to American culture, Tina Turner is undisputedly the Queen of Rock and Roll.