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Tina Turner

Biography

Tina Turner
Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Tina Turner is one of the great soul singers of all time, a powerful performer overflowing with heart-on-her-sleeve passion and sex appeal. She also has a great comeback story. Turner became famous in the Sixties by partnering onstage and off with Ike Turner, to whom she was married for nearly 20 years. After a tumultuous relationship, which Tina Turner has described as being marked by physical and emotional abuse (claims her ex-husband disputes), Tina left Ike in 1976, then became bigger than ever.

Anna Mae Bullock grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, the daughter of a black overseer and church deacon father and a part-Native American mother. When she was three, her parents moved away to find better work; grandparents essentially raised Turner and her older sister. Eventually her parents divorced and her mother settled in St. Louis, where Turner moved during high school. It was there that she met Ike Turner at the Club Manhattan. (Her early years with Ike are recounted in that entry.)

Turner had made two solo albums while with Ike. Acid Queen (Number 155, 1975) was named after her memorable role in Ken Russell's film Tommy. After leaving Ike in 1976 (they divorced in 1978), Turner got a few bookings but at one point was forced to live on food stamps. A Buddhist since the early Seventies, Turner persevered. She recorded two unsuccessful late-Seventies albums that were heavy on covers of all genres (from "The Bitch Is Back" to the syrupy "Sometimes When We Touch"). Prior to that, she had placed a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on the R&B chart, at Number 61, in 1975. Turner's comeback began in earnest in 1981, when the Rolling Stones offered her a few opening spots on their U.S. tour. Around that time she also opened some shows for Rod Stewart and toured the world.

In 1983 she landed a solo deal and by year's end had a U.K. hit with her steamy cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (Number Six U.K.). Her U.S. breakthrough came with Private Dancer (Number 3, 1984), an 11-million-selling international smash that included "Let's Stay Together" (Number 26 pop, Number Three R&B, 1984), "What's Love Got to Do With It" (Number One pop, Number Two R&B, 1984), "Better Be Good to Me" (Number Five pop, Number Six R&B, 1984), and "Private Dancer" (Number Seven pop, Number Three R&B, 1985).

Her next two nonalbum songs were from the Mel Gibson film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), in which Turner costarred as Auntie Entity: "We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" (Number Two pop, Number Three R&B, 1985) and "One of the Living" (Number 15 pop, Number 41 R&B, 1985).

Turner swept the Grammys in 1984, with "What's Love Got to Do With It" winning Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and "Better Be Good to Me" taking Best Rock Vocal Performance. "What's Love" was also recognized as Song of the Year and Record of the Year. The following year "One of the Living" won Best Female Rock Performance.

Break Every Rule (Number 4, 1986), another platinum release, included "Typical Male" (Number Two pop, Number Three R&B, 1986), "Two People" (Number 30 pop, Number 18 R&B, 1986), and "What You Get Is What You See" (Number 13, 1987). In late 1985 she released a live duet with Bryan Adams, "It's Only Love," which went to Number 15.

Turner, long legendary for her live shows, toured tirelessly. She has always been especially popular in Europe and in England, where Tina Live in Europe went to Number Eight as opposed to Number 86 in the United States. Despite the relatively disappointing chart showing, Live in Europe earned Turner a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy. She duetted with Mick Jagger at Live Aid in 1985 and is a favorite of British rock stars. Her international tours broke records in many cities. In 1986 Turner took home the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy for "Back Where You Started."

In 1986 she published her bestselling autobiography, I, Tina (cowritten with Kurt Loder), in which she maintained that Ike had been abusing her since the Sixties. Her litany of his crimes against her include hitting her, pouring hot coffee on her face, burning her lip with a lighted cigarette, and forcing her to perform while ill and pregnant. She also wrote that she had attempted suicide in 1968.

In 1989 came Turner's first album of new material in over three years, Foreign Affair (Number 31, 1989). Its singles included "The Best" (Number 15, 1989), with a sax solo by Edgar Winter, and Tony Joe White's "Steamy Windows" (Number 39, 1990). While it was not her most successful album in the U.S., it outsold Private Dancer in the U.K. Also in 1989 Turner celebrated her 50th birthday with a star-studded party that included Mark Knopfler (who wrote "Private Dancer"), Eric Clapton, and other admirers. Turner and Rod Stewart's remake of the Marvin Gaye–Tammi Terrell hit "It Takes Two" went to Number Five in the U.K. in 1990. A year later, her greatest-hits package Simply the Best went to Number One in the U.K. but didn't clear the Hot 100 albums chart here. In 1992 Turner signed to Virgin.

Turner's autobiography was made into a hit feature film, What's Love Got to Do With It (1993); the soundtrack (Number 17, 1993) spawned the hit single "I Don't Wanna Fight" (Number Nine pop, Number 51 R&B, 1993), which was cowritten by Steve DuBerry and Lulu.

Dividing her time in the Nineties between homes in Zurich, Switzerland, and the South of France, Turner, a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist for many years, continued to record and tour. In 1996 she released Wildest Dreams (Number 61, 1996), a strong return to form (its 1997 tour was sponsored by Hanes hosiery, in tribute to Turner's famous legs), although only one of its singles, a remake of John Waits' "Missing You" (Number 84 pop, 1996) made the pop chart.

R&B hit singles included "GoldenEye" (the theme from a James Bond thriller that was written for Turner by Bono and the Edge and produced by Nellee Hooper) (Number 89 R&B, 1995), "Something Beautiful Remains" (Number 34 R&B, 1996), and the title track, which featured Barry White (Number 34 R&B). Twenty Four Seven (Number 21 pop, Number 29 R&B, 2000) entered the charts at Number 21, the highest chart debut position of her career.

In 2005, Turner received the Kennedy Center Honors; at the ceremony she earned praise from both Oprah Winfrey and President Bush. In 2008, Turner performed with Beyonce at the Grammys, then set out for Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour, a worldwide swing that ran through May, 2009.

Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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