Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 485 from October 23, 1986. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
In a business known for its exploitation of women, Tina Turner has managed, for over twenty years, to retain not only the adoration of her fans but the admiration of her peer group, male and female. She is nothing if not a survivor.
Born November 26th, 1939, Anna Mae Bullock first overcame abandonment by both of her parents during her childhood in rural Nut Bush, Tennessee. In the late Fifties, she began singing with Ike Turner, who renamed her Tina; alongside him, she rose to fame as the fiery star of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Existence in this milieu meant enduring the tortured life of a battered wife as she performed through sixteen years of physical abuse at the hands of her husband. Finally, in 1976, she walked out, buoyed by an increasing faith in Buddhism: ''I tested it, and it worked,'' she says. ''When I started practicing, something happened to me inside.'' Penniless and without career prospects, she struggled financially for the next few years, appearing on game shows and performing in cabarets. In 1979, Turner discussed management with the Los Angeles-based firm headed by Lee Kramer, who introduced her to her present manager, Roger Davies. It was he who masterminded her climb back to the top of the rock & roll heap. In 1984, their work came to fruition with the release of Private Dancer, which won three Grammys and has sold 10 million copies worldwide. Having an ambition to try screen acting, Turner accepted director George Miller's offer to star with Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but turned down Steven Spielberg when he was casting the lead in The Color Purple. ''It was too close to what I just stepped out of,'' she says.
This year looks like another good one for Turner. Her autobiography, I, Tina, has hit the bookstores, timed to the release of a new album, Break Every Rule. The title is an apt one for Turner. At forty-six, she has the beauty of a woman years younger — particularly offstage, where a certain graciousness considerably softens her stage image. For her interview in her suite at Morgans hotel in New York, Turner's famous legs were well hidden in baggy black silk pants and an overblouse. At her throat was a single strand of pearls, which she fingered, at times, like worry beads.
Turner is clearly at a pivotal time in her life. With the publication of I, Tina, she hopes to lay to rest the curiosity about her years as a battered wife. She escaped professionally victorious and personally enlightened. If there is one quality that marks Turner, it is her extraordinary freedom from bitterness. Although she says she is still struggling for respect, the fact of the matter is she already has it.
You've come a long way in life, Tina. You must feel very satisfied in how you've pulled yourself together in the last ten years since leaving Ike.
I don't have one debt at the moment. I have a home now. I always wanted a home, but I didn't have one because my parents broke up. I was determined to have that foundation. So I bought my mother a house, and now we all go there — my sons, my sister, her daughter. I'm reliving something I wanted when I was a child. The principal's daughters had homes, and now I have a home. I've made that dream a reality.
I'm self-made. I always wanted to make myself a better person, because I was not educated. But that was my dream — to have class. Now it's too late for that. You can't read a book like my autobiography and say, ''She's classy.'' You can say, ''She's a respectable woman,'' but you can't say ''classy.'' My role model was always Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Now, you're talking about high stuff, right? [Laughs.] My taste was high. So when it came to role models, I looked at presidents' wives. Of course, you're talking about a farm girl who stood in the fields, dreaming, years ago, wishing she was that kind of person. But if I had been that kind of person, do you think I could sing with the emotions I do? You sing with those emotions because you've had pain in your heart. The bloodline of my family didn't come from that kind of royalty. Why I relate to it, I don't know. That's the class I wanted to be. But I wasn't, so I dealt with the class I was in. I have never disrespected myself, and I'm still very proud of myself. But society doesn't look at that as class, that type of woman. Society respects me, I think, because I'm self-made and I climbed to the top. But it was the high-class black people I wanted respect from. So I never let go of that dream.
Basically, your family were sharecroppers. Do you feel you were middle-class?
We were well-to-do farmers — that's as close as I can get to explaining it. To me, it seemed as if we lived well. My sister and I had our own room. Each season we'd get new clothes, and I was always fresh and neat, especially compared to a lot of other people around me. We were never hungry. Of course, we knew the difference between our family and, say, the daughters of schoolteachers — those people were educated. My parents weren't, per se, but they had a lot of common sense and spoke well. We weren't low-class people. In fact, my parents were church people; my father was a deacon in the church.
Both of your parents deserted you at different points in your childhood. Didn't they have a tumultuous marriage?
My mother and father didn't love each other, so they were always fighting.
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