A native of Nutbush in west Tennessee’s cotton-rich Haywood County, Tina Tuner was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 and would go on to become a household name in the Sixties and Seventies, performing alongside her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Ike Turner. Her extraordinary career would take her to the pop charts and around the world on tour, but her very first solo album could just as easily have sent her off on an entirely different trajectory.
In the same way that Ray Charles, the Supremes, and Bobby Womack had done before her, Turner recorded an album chiefly composed of country-music covers. But whereas the other artists showed their appreciation for country music later in their careers, Turner came right out of the gate with her 1975 solo debut, Tina Turns the Country On!. The album was released a year before Turner filed for divorce from Ike, whose physical abuse, fueled by an increasing cocaine habit, led to the dissolution of their marriage and the end of their musical partnership.
With a title that was a clever play on Turner’s electrifying stage presence and also a nod to the country music contained therein, the LP featured songs from writers such as Dolly Parton (“There’ll Always Be Music”), Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”), and Hank Snow (“I’m Movin’ On”).
In spite of its country leanings — and its failure to chart — the project did earn a 1975 Grammy nomination, for Best R&B Vocal Performance Female. Turner would lose the Grammy to Aretha Franklin — which was hardly surprising since Franklin had won in the category every year since it was first introduced in 1968.
It would take Turner almost a decade before her solo breakthrough, 1984’s Private Dancer, would sell upwards of 20 million copies. Although she has retired from performing and recording, and now lives in Zurich, Switzerland, her humble country roots are on display in her hometown through its annual Tina Turner Heritage Days. In September 2014, the one-room Flagg Grove School she attended as a child was opened as a museum honoring her life and career. It is located on the grounds of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville.
[A version of this story was first published in 2014.]