Tina Turner, showstopping pop-music sensation, dies at 83

Her personal story of struggle and resuscitation was defiantly expressed in her 1984 hit What’s Love Got to Do With It.

Tina Turner performing in 1996. She sold more than 100 million records, won eight Grammy Awards, and became a brighter star in her 40s and 50s than when she was young. (Reuters)

She might have had a second gig in her own group, but everyone knew who the star of the Ike and Tina Turner revue was.

The world saw Tina Turner when she and her husband Ike toured with the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and landed a Grammy-winning hit in 1971 with “Proud Mary.”

It was Tina Turner who, with her raspy voice and frantic, sweat-drenched dance, lit the stage and went on to become one of pop music’s most dynamic and influential artists.

And it was Tina Turner who, after stepping away from the limelight and her erratic, abusive husband, regrouped as a solo artist, sold more than 100 million records, won eight Grammy Awards, and became a brighter star in her 40s and 50s than she had been in her youth. Her overtly sexual costumes, dance moves, and personalities have been emulated by artists across generations, from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé to Cardi B.

Ms Turner, whose story of struggle and resuscitation was defiantly expressed in her 1984 hit What’s Love Got to Do With It and her bestselling autobiography I, Tina, died May 24 at her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, near Zurich. She was 83 years old and had had a stroke, kidney disease and other ailments in recent years. Bernard Doherty, her longtime publicist, confirmed the death but gave no immediate cause.

Ms. Turner, who grew up as Anna Mae Bullock in rural Nutbush, Tennessee, was living in St. Louis in the late 1950s when her older sister arranged for an acquaintance with Ike Turner, who was performing at a local club.

By the age of 26 he was already an established musician and in 1951 he co-wrote a rhythm and blues hit, “Rocket 88” with his powerful piano, which is sometimes credited as the first rock and roll record. At first, Ms. Turner, then 18, was put off by Ike’s gaunt, serious appearance.

“I remember thinking I’d never seen anyone so skinny,” she told Rolling Stone magazine in 1986. “But when he left he had a great presence. . . Boy could he play that music? The place was just starting to rock. I really wanted to get up there and sing.”

During an intermission, the band’s drummer – her sister’s boyfriend – set up a microphone and Ms Turner sang a song by BB King.

“Well, when Ike heard me,” she told Rolling Stone, “he rushed up to me and said, ‘Girl, I didn’t know you could sing!’ The band came back and I kept singing.”

She began working with Ike’s band, the Kings of Rhythm, but only rose to prominence in 1960 when a male singer failed to show up for a studio recording. Ms Turner took the mic to sing “A Fool in Love,” a song written by Ike.

It was only intended to be a demo recording, but Ms Turner’s impassioned performance was released on a small label and credited to ‘Ike & Tina Turner’ – a stage name bestowed by Ike. He chose the name because Tina rhymed with “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,” a scantily clad, vine-wielding comic book and television character from the 1950s.

“A Fool in Love” sold 800,000 copies, became a #2 R&B hit, and peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. The group had a few other minor R&B hits, but never fully achieved national fame.

Backstage, Ms Turner raised four boys – two by her and two by Ike’s sons from another relationship. Her older son was from a relationship with Raymond Hill, a saxophonist in Ike Turner’s band; Ike was the father of her second son who was born in 1960. She and Ike married in 1962.

Tina and the Ikettes – three women who acted as backup singers and dancers – created a high-energy, dynamically choreographed stage performance in the club area that made other groups look like statues.

But behind the merry dance and music, Ms. Turner wrote in her 1986 memoir Me, Tina, Ike Turner controlled the group like “a sadistic little cult.” He carried a gun and did not allow Ms. Turner to be financially independent.

When the group rose to prominence with an appearance in the 1966 concert film The Big TNT Show, Tina Turner caught the attention of music producer Phil Spector, who saw her as a potential star.

A major hitmaker of the early 1960s, Spector was known for his studio magic and “wall of sound” musical style. He co-wrote a song with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich entitled “River Deep, Mountain High” which he commissioned Ms. Turner to record. Spector insisted on complete artistic control and agreed to credit the recording to “Ike and Tina Turner” if Ike stayed away from the studio.

During the long nightly recording sessions, Ms Turner stripped off her sweat-soaked blouse and wore only her bra as she sang countless takes of the vocal track.

“River Deep” opens on a plaintive, introspective note — “When I was a little girl I had a rag doll” — before rushing to a frantic climax: “Do I love you, my God? Oh baby, river deep, mountain high!”

Rolling Stone later ranked “River Deep” at number 33 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of the Rock Era. It became a hit in Europe but never caught on in the United States, peaking at number 88 on the Billboard pop chart.

“It was too black for the pop stations and too pop for the black stations,” remarked Ms. Turner in her autobiography.

Still, it marked a turning point for Ms. Turner: she realized she didn’t need Ike Turner to make an important record – and that she was a singer with a voice of her own.

“You know why I’ll always love this song?” she told the Chicago Tribune. “People used to call me a dancer and not a singer. So when I was with Phil, I stormed off and he was like, ‘No, no, I just want you to sing.’ ”

In 1966, the Rolling Stones invited the Ike & Tina Turner revue to their first of several tours, introducing them to a wider audience.

Jagger walked into the dressing room that Ms. Turner shared with the Ikettes, writing in her 2018 memoir My Love Story, saying in his distinctive voice, “I like how you girls dance.”

“We’d seen him strut his tambourine on stage and he was a bit awkward at the time,” she continued. “We took him into our group and taught him how to do the pony. Mick understood it quickly. . . . Not that he ever gave me or the girls credit for his fancy new footwork. To this day, Mick likes to say, “My mom taught me to dance.” And I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine.” But I know better.”

‘Pretty . . . and rough

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ike and Tina Turner began recording versions of songs by other artists, including the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women”, Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and most notably “Proud”. . Mary,” written by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In the original recording, and in every performance for the next three decades, Ms. Turner opened the song with a characteristic introduction, which her audience recited in unison: “We never, ever, do nothing beautiful. . . And easy. So let’s make it nice. . . and rough!”

“Proud Mary” reached #4 on the pop chart in 1971, sold more than 1 million copies and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. The group had a minor hit in 1973 with “Nutbush City Limits,” a song written by Ms. Turner about her Tennessee roots, and they released two poorly received solo albums.

But her life in the 1970s was increasingly marked by her deteriorating relationship with Ike Turner. He had a drug problem, flaunted his affairs with other women, and would sometimes hit Tina, resulting in swollen eyes and once a broken jaw. He used his fists, a folded wire hanger, and a wooden shoe tree or stretcher.

“I was trapped,” she told Rolling Stone. “Success and fear almost went hand in hand. When I finally left to tell him I didn’t want to continue. . . Then he got the shoe tree.”

In 1976, Ms. Turner slipped out of her hotel room into an alleyway in Dallas where the band was touring. She had 36 cents, a gas station credit card and the clothes she was wearing. She found shelter with friends in exchange for cleaning their houses and lived on food stamps. She began practicing Buddhism, which she says led to renewed inner peace.

After their divorce in 1978, Tina never saw Ike Turner again. Her financial settlement was nowhere near enough to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes and broken concert contracts.

“It’s very difficult to explain to people why I stayed,” she later told The Washington Post. “I left Tennessee from the country as a little girl and entered the life of a man who was a producer, had money, and was a star himself. And once Ike Turner was very nice to me. In later years he turned into a terrible person.”

She began appearing on television game shows and in Las Vegas lounges. In 1979 Ms Turner found a new manager, Australian Roger Davies, who had helped shape Olivia Newton-John’s career. With Ms. Turner, he became the architect of one of the most remarkable comeback stories in show business.

Davies arranged for Ms. Turner to open for the Rolling Stones in 1981, and her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” became a hit in England and US dance clubs. But as late as 1983, she still didn’t have a record deal with a major label.

That year, David Bowie told Capitol Records executives that he had to skip a party in his honor in Manhattan because his favorite artist was performing at a nightclub.

“So they all came and voilà — there I was on stage,” Ms Turner told The Post. “She…

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