Tina Turner: Singer Remembered for Hits Like “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Movie and Broadway Stardom

From a Wall Street Journal obit by John Jurgensen headlined “Tina Turner, Powerful Rock and R&B Singer, Is Dead at 83”:

Tina Turner, the performer whose powerhouse singing and dancing took her from a barnstorming R&B music revue to the peak of pop stardom, has died.

She was an eight-time Grammy winner with a textured voice that transmitted raw emotion in songs like “River Deep—Mountain High” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” She whipped up audiences with a stage presence that was both frenzied and sensual, and an influence on performers from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé. And she put her fierce magnetism to work in movies such as “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” in which she played a post-apocalyptic villain.

Turner died Wednesday at her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, near Zürich, after a long illness, said her spokesman Bernard Doherty. “She enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow,” her representatives wrote on her Instagram page Wednesday. “Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music.”

Turner’s career unfolded in two chapters—with her first husband, Ike Turner, and without. The volatile R&B mastermind added her to his act when she was 17 years old, inventing the stage name Tina Turner for his star singer. She would later detail how he abused her physically and emotionally while working her and a revolving lineup of backup dancers and musicians nonstop.

From 1960 through the mid-1970s, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was one of live music’s most electrifying groups yet didn’t generate consistent hit records. Merging into the rock ’n’ roll world helped. They reinterpreted songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary”; their turbo rendition of that number earned a Grammy Award and the duo’s highest position—No. 4—on the Billboard Top 40 chart.

After Turner left her husband in 1976, she struggled to work her way out of financial debt and establish herself as a solo act. Her global success in the 1980s, triggered by her smash 1984 album “Private Dancer,” was later framed as a triumph of liberation from her ex-husband. Ike Turner’s domineering behavior, bursts of violence and cocaine abuse were depicted in a 1986 autobiography that was adapted into the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Go to Do With It,” starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. The tale would permanently color both musicians’ legacies.

The superstar was the epitome of artistic self-empowerment, said Max Lousada, Warner Music’s chief executive of recorded music.

“Even after the countless awards, the 180 million album sales, the record-breaking tours, and unforgettable acting roles, Tina will be remembered most through the sheer joy of her music,” Lousada said in a statement Wednesday. “So powerful is her extraordinary, universal appeal that there is no doubt she will continue to influence generations to come.”

Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, in Nutbush, Tenn., a place she later sang of in “Nutbush City Limits,” the only hit song she wrote herself. Her father was an overseer of fellow sharecroppers, but when her parents moved away for manufacturing jobs during World War II, Ann, as she was known, and her older sister lived with relatives. She sang in church, was a cheerleader and played basketball. At age 16, with her father gone from the family, she moved in with her mother in St. Louis, where Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm band ruled the local music scene.

Eight years older than Ann, Ike had already recorded one of history’s first rock ’n’ roll songs, “Rocket 88,” released in 1951. He heard Ann singing between sets at a Kings of Rhythm show, and put her in his band.

Their initially platonic relationship turned intimate and by the time Ann recorded her first lead vocal in 1960, she was pregnant with her second child, and her first with Ike.

“A Fool In Love” became an R&B hit that crossed over to a white pop audience. To link his rising lead singer’s fortunes to his own, Ike dubbed her Tina Turner (because Tina rhymed with Sheena, the name of a favorite jungle-queen TV character of his) and renamed his band the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. They married in 1962.

When Ann hesitated over changing her name and touring while pregnant, Ike abused her for the first time, she said in the book “I, Tina,” written with Kurt Loder: “He would beat me with shoes, shoe trees, anything that was handy.” She would later attempt suicide using sleeping pills.

On stage, however, the duo seemed in sync. The Revue was as renowned for seamless musicianship as for Turner’s leg-baring dresses and full-tilt dance routines with female backup performers.

In 1966, with producer Phil Spector, she recorded the lush “River Deep—Mountain High.” Though the record flopped in the U.S., it was a hit in Britain, where the band opened for the Rolling Stones.

In 1976, a physical fight with her husband before a concert in Dallas spurred Turner to flee the tour and her marriage. She credited Buddhism, which she discovered in the 1970s, for helping her break away.

Free to explore more nuanced styles of singing than the belting required in the Revue, she mounted a rock-driven comeback. A 1983 concert in downtown Manhattan—and the enthusiasm of attendees such as David Bowie—sparked a new record deal. Turner’s cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” paved the way for recording sessions that would yield the album “Private Dancer.” At the 1985 Grammy Awards, the album earned four wins, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

Though sensuality factored into Turner’s allure—President George W. Bush described her legs as “the most famous in show business” at the 2005 Kennedy Center Honors—she played down that aspect of her image.

In a 2018 memoir, “My Love Story,” she wrote: “Most of the costumes that people considered sexy were practical choices. Fishnet stockings didn’t run as often as the other kind. Short dresses were easier for dancing because they left my legs free, and looked good with my short torso. Leather didn’t show perspiration or dirt, and it never wrinkled.”

In the U.S., later album releases fell short of the commercial success of “Private Dancer,” but Turner’s international popularity held steady, especially in concert. After more than one intended farewell tour, Turner retired from the stage with a 50th anniversary tour launched in 2008.

She and Ike Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a duo in 1991. He died in 2007 following a cocaine overdose. Tina Turner was inducted into the Rock Hall for her solo career in 2021.

A romance with a German record executive, Erwin Bach, that began during the singer’s “Private Dancer” phase led her to relocate to Europe. Turner became a citizen of Switzerland and married Bach in 2013.

She suffered a stroke soon after her marriage, and other health problems followed, including renal disease that resulted in the 2017 transplant of a kidney donated by her husband.

While dealing with illness, Turner worked with theater producers to tell another version of her life story. After opening in London in April, 2018, “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical” opened on Broadway in 2019.

The musical ran for three years on Broadway and earned 12 Tony Award nominations and a win for lead actress Adrienne Warren.

President Biden on Tuesday paid tribute to the “Queen of Rock and Roll.”

“In addition to being a once-in-a-generation talent that changed American music forever, Tina’s personal strength was remarkable,” he said in a statement. “Overcoming adversity, and even abuse, she built a career for the ages and a life and legacy that were entirely hers.”

Thomas Coesfeld, who has been tapped to lead music label BMG, the custodian of Turner’s music interests, said the singer had made clear her wish for her music to live on. “We—and her countless fans around the world—will ensure that wish is respected,” he said.

John Jurgensen is a reporter on the Style News Desk at The Wall Street Journal. He covers the entertainment world with an emphasis on television and film, and stories at the intersection of cultural trends and industry news.

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