Tina Turner, the indisputable Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has sadly passed away at the age of 83. According to her representatives, the singer and actor transitioned in her Switzerland abode after a lengthy illness. In today’s world, the words “legend” and “icon” are haphazardly tossed at many people who barely present a modicum of talent, longevity, and measurable impact in their respective career fields. But Tina Turner is indeed an icon and a legend who paved the way for future stars like Janet Jackson and Beyoncé.
She was born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee on November 26, 1939 and lived in the tiny community of Nutbush. Her beginnings were humble as the daughter of a sharecropper overseer and she later became a domestic worker as a teenager. But inside her roared a fierce spirit raring to unleash itself on captivated audiences. As is the case with most Black performers of her time, Tina Turner began her singing career in the Baptist church. It’s in this space that she polished her performance chops and found her unique voice. After moving to St. Louis, her undeniable talent led to her become the frontwoman of the band formerly known as the Kings of Rhythm. Her first recording, “Boxtop,” (under the name Little Ann) set the foundation for a dizzying rise to the upper echelon of music entertainment.
The Ike & Tina Turner Revue became one of the must-see live acts of the 1960s and 1970s. The collective would often embark on lengthy tours all over the world to cater to adoring fans. She became the first Black artist and first Black woman to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was a clear sign she’d far exceeded “making it,” instead becoming a part of music history. Her success represented the endless possibilities for women in creative fields, pushing at barriers set in place by misogynoir.
Tina was undoubtedly THE star of the show, from the fierce, guttural growl in her voice to her impeccable showmanship, style, and signature dance moves. Whether she was singing about being a fool in love or big wheels that keep on turning, Tina Turner would sweat, spin, scream, and sing crowds into euphoric delirium. She perhaps didn’t fully realize it then, but she was laying the foundation for her future domination in another arena of music: Rock ‘n’ Roll.
During this tumultuous time in America, Tina was an aspirational shining star to many. She was gifted and gorgeous with an electric energy that permeated the air every time she breathed. She had style, grace, a hint of mysterious aura, and an unmistakable rockstar edge. It reminded us that—although her infectious laugh and chill persona make her feel familial—she was not quite like us mere mortals. We know sadder elements of her life story all too well, but we choose to celebrate her freedom and brilliant artistry.
Following a period of transition, setbacks, and self-discovery, Tina Turner rose like a phoenix from the ashes with a determination to redefine her career on her own terms. That came in the form of Private Dancer (1984), her fifth solo studio album that brought forth a new legion of fans. Hits like the title track as well as a little tune called “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (you may have heard of it) sent her straight to solo superstardom as she began to cement her place as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. She taught us that you can reinvent yourself whenever the hell you want to, critics and skeptics be damned.
Tina soon got into acting, racking up a list of credits that bring nerds a ton of joy. Her roles as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Acid Queen in Tommy, and The Mayor in Last Action Hero let her dive into raucous and, at times, campy acting fun. But, of course, she could never fully step away from her sky-high pumps.
Tina Turner was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomena. She became one of the best selling artists of all-time with a string of successful sold-out tours. Her countless accolades include multiple Grammy Awards and Grammy Hall of Fame honors and two Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Her music is beloved by generations of fans and included in countless pop culture offerings.
However, a critical important part of her story is that she eventually attained priceless gifts. They are what many of us, including Tina, seek in our lifetimes: peace, joy, and rest. She found romantic love with music producer Erwin Bach and later retired to enjoy her quiet home in Küsnacht, Switzerland. (Tina became a Swiss citizen in 2013.) She spent decades giving her gifts to the world. And, in her final years, she left the spotlight to usher in the ease she’d worked towards all her life.
Tina Turner is simply the best… forever better than all the rest. May she rest peacefully.