Brittany Howard on Why Tina Turner Was ‘So Punk’
For Brittany Howard, Grammy-winning solo artist and frontwoman for the Alabama Shakes, Tina Turner was a lifelong hero. After Turner’s death on Wednesday, May 24, at age 83, Howard shared some thoughts on her life and work. (Meanwhile, Howard reveals that her own second solo album will be “coming quicker than you think.”)
Since I was just a little kid, my mother wanted me to see Tina Turner. The first time I saw Tina on television, my mom was like, “This is really important. You need to see this.” And it was legs, and it was hair, and it was running all over the place. I’d never seen anything like it. It was ferocious. For my mother, I think she symbolized power and strength. Because life for my mother wasn’t easy, either. A lot of pain, a lot of heartbreak, a lot of suffering. And Tina stood out to all of the women who were going through that, I think.
“Proud Mary” is a song we sang together as a family from a really young age. But, in the Eighties when she did Private Dancer, being in her forties and releasing music like that, moving like that, being very singular, a Black woman singing rock & roll, that was hugely inspiring to me as a student of music and as someone who also wants to express myself in a loud, bold way.
I want to actually see more older, wiser people getting their chance to tell their story in popular media. Seeing Tina in my life from such a young age, a woman acting like that, singing like that, sweating, and having muscles, having no care in the world, and having this freedom, I know what that did for me as a young girl and then growing into a woman.
Out of her entire catalog of work, I gotta go with “Simply the Best.” But I also really love “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” It took me a couple of decades to even understand the lyrics of the song. And then once they clicked, I mean they clicked. That was wisdom. From the Ike and Tina years, I love that song “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter.” That’s my jam because she’s talking all this smack about Ike. And she was obviously the best part of Ike and Tina. Ike could have wrote any of them songs for anybody else and it would’ve been nothing to really marvel at. But because you got Tina in the mix, that’s what turns those songs on.
Tina Turner, to me, is a living, breathing phoenix, a symbol of resurrection. A career like that, a successful career, where it all goes away and they come back, it’s not often you hear about that, where they come back bigger and stronger and brighter. That’s what I love about Tina most. The music’s amazing. The performing is amazing, but this story arc of her life, watching her life … I mean, from food stamps to icon status, she never gave up. She always had this hope and this belief in herself.
Her spirituality played a large part in that. I was in my mid-twenties when I found her mantra album. It was a Buddhist mantra, and I got into it. I definitely started chanting, and for me, it was just like a little gift to raise my vibration. ‘Cause, you know, it gets low out here! So, yeah, I started chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” That’s my shit. I was doing it a lot yesterday, just in honor of Tina.
As a performer, I was most inspired by Tina taking up all of that space as a Black woman: taking risks, paying no mind, finding her freedom. She didn’t need any validation to tell her that she was powerful. It was subversive as hell. It was so punk. She was more rock & roll than rock & roll even knew what to do with. Here’s this Black woman, muscular and strong, just absolutely wiping the floor with everyone else. That’s badass, and it’s courageous. In the Sixties, she was going through what she was going through at the time and she still had the ability to show up and do that.
I’ve never sung a Tina song onstage before, but I was thinking I might do it next week. Something slower, from Tina’s deep, emotional side, like “Watch Closely Now,” and then definitely switching over to “Simply the Best,” because that’s just a crowd-pleaser.