1939-2023

Who Was Tina Turner?

Tina Turner began performing with musician Ike Turner in the 1950s. They became known as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, achieving popular acclaim for their live performances and recordings like the top 5 hit “Proud Mary,” until Tina left in the 1970s after years of domestic abuse. Following a slow start to her solo career, Turner achieved massive success with her 1984 album Private Dancer. She went on to deliver more chart-topping albums and hit singles and was twice elected into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The revered singer with eight Grammys to her name later became involved in the spiritual Beyond project. Turner died May 24, 2023, at age 83.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Tina Turner (nee Anna Mae Bullock)
BORN: November 26, 1939
DIED: May 24, 2023
BIRTHPLACE: Nutbush, Tennessee
SPOUSES: Ike Turner (1962-1978) and Erwin Bach (2013-2023)
CHILDREN: Craig, Ronnie, Ike Jr., and Michael
ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Sagittarius

Early Life

Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Nutbush, Tennessee. Her parents, Floyd and Zelma Bullock, were poor sharecroppers, who split up and left Anna Mae and her sister to be raised by their grandmother. When her grandmother died in the early 1950s, Anna Mae moved to St. Louis, to be with her mother.

Barely in her teens, Anna Mae, who sang in her church’s choir, quickly immersed herself in St. Louis’s R&B scene, spending much of her time at Club Manhattan. It was there, in 1956, that she met rock ’n’ roll pioneer Ike Turner, who often played at the club with the Kings of Rhythm. Soon, she was performing with the group as “Little Ann,” and she quickly became the highlight of their show.

Making the Charts: “A Fool in Love”

ike and tina turner performing on stage, ike stands in front of a microphone and plays guitar, tina stands on his right and sings into a microphone she is holding, ike wears a deep v cut black shirt with rhinestone details, tina wears a black and silver striped dress with high thigh slits

Ike and Tina Turner, who first began working together in 1960, perform in London in October 1975.
Getty Images

In 1960, when another singer failed to show up for a Kings of Rhythm recording session, Anna Mae sang the lead on a track titled “A Fool in Love.” The record was then sent to a radio station in New York and was released under the moniker Ike and Tina Turner. (In a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Tina said Ike patented her name as a form of control.)

The song became a huge R&B success and soon crossed over to the pop charts. Before long, the group was touring as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and earning renown for their electrifying stage performances. The group also capitalized on the success of “A Fool in Love” by releasing a string of successful follow-up singles, including “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” “Poor Fool,” and “Tra La La La La.”

Marriage to Ike Turner

With their popularity growing, Ike and Tina were married in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1962. They had a son, Ronnie, prior to their wedding in 1960. They shared four sons in all: Craig; Ike Jr.; Michael; and Ronnie, who was their only biological child together.

Tina had Craig with Kings of Rhythm saxophonist Raymond Hill when she was 18. Ike adopted Craig, and Tina adopted two of Ike’s sons, Ike Jr. and Michael, from his previous marriage.

Famed Interpretation of “Proud Mary”

In 1966, Tina and Ike’s success reached new heights when they recorded the album River Deep, Mountain High with superstar record producer Phil Spector. The title track was unsuccessful in the United States but became a massive, top 5 hit in England and brought the duo new fame. Still, they became more known for their electrifying live performances without accumulating a ton of corresponding hits.

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In 1969, they toured as the opening act for the Rolling Stones, winning themselves still more fans. Their popularity was rekindled in 1971 with the release of the album Workin’ Together, which featured a renowned slow-to-fast remake of the Creedence Clearwater Revival track “Proud Mary” that reached the top 5 of the U.S. charts and won the two their first Grammy.

“Proud Mary” became a cornerstone of the couple’s shows, renowned for Tina’s vocal delivery along with the swirling, hand-rolling dance moves from accompanying vocalists, the Ikettes.

The duo later had a top 5 U.K. hit with 1973’s “Nutbush City Limits,” a rock-country-soul jam penned by Tina that included autobiographical elements. Then in 1975, Tina also appeared in her first film, playing the Acid Queen in The Who’s Tommy.

Divorcing Ike

ike and tina turner stand on a sidewalk, tina is wearing a gray dress and bandana and looks at the camera, ike wears an all white outfit with a belted tunic and adjusts something on tinas dress

Tina and Ike Turner
Getty Images

Despite their success as a musical duo, Tina and Ike’s marriage was in shambles. Tina would later reveal that Ike was often physically abusive, and she even attempted suicide because of his abuse.

In 1976, the couple separated both personally and professionally after an altercation in Dallas in which Tina fought back, according to her later book. In 1978, they were officially divorced, with Tina citing Ike’s frequent infidelities and increasing drug and alcohol use in addition to the abuse.

In the years following her divorce, Tina’s solo career got off to a slow start. According to Tina, when she left Ike, she had “36 cents and a gas station credit card.” To make ends meet and to care for her children, she used food stamps and even cleaned houses. But she also continued to perform in lower-profile venues and made guest appearances on other artists’ records, though not achieving any notable success initially.

Solo Comeback: “Private Dancer” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

In 1983, however, Turner’s solo career finally gained steam when she recorded a remake of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Noted for a related video in which she appeared in a rag dress between two dancers, Turner took her remake to the top 5 on the domestic R&B charts and the top 10 among U.K. pop songs.

The following year, she exploded back into the record industry when her much-anticipated solo album Private Dancer was released to overwhelming critical and popular success. It went on to win four Grammy Awards and eventually sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

tina turner stands on stage and sings into a handheld microphone, she is wearing a sequined silver minidress with black trim accents and black high heels, behind her is musical equipment and a set

Tina Turner performs at Shoreline Amphitheatre on May 23, 1997, in California.
Getty Images

Private Dancer was a formidable entity in terms of its individual singles, with the empowerment anthem “What’s Love Got to Do With It” reaching No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts and earning the Grammy for Record of the Year. The smooth-jazz title track “Private Dancer” and “Better Be Good to Me” both reached the top 10 as well.

By this time, Turner was a woman in her mid-40s who was becoming even more renowned for her uniquely energetic performances and raspy singing technique along with her signature look—typically performing in short skirts that exposed her famous legs, with voluminous, punk-styled hair.

Late ’80s: “Mad Max” Movie, Autobiography, and More Albums

In 1985, Turner returned to the screen, starring opposite Mel Gibson in the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, to which she contributed the No. 2 pop song “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

I, Tina: My Life Story

I, Tina: My Life Story

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One year later, she published her autobiography, I, Tina, which would later be adapted as the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do with It, starring Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike. (Turner’s soundtrack for the film, in which she redid classic tracks and offered up the new top 10 hit “I Don’t Wanna Fight” would go double-platinum, and both Bassett and Fishburne earned Oscar nominations for their performances.)

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The year 1986 also saw the release of Turner’s second solo album, Break Every Rule, featuring the fun “Typical Male.” Chronicling unfulfilled desire with a too-brainy romantic interest, the track was yet another hit for Turner, reaching No. 2 on the pop charts.

Tina Live in Europe followed in 1988 and won the Grammy for Female Rock Vocal Performance. Foreign Affair (1989), which included the top 20 hit single “The Best,” outdid Private Dancer in worldwide sales.

“Wildest Dreams” and Final Tour

The following decade, Turner released Wildest Dreams (1996), featuring her cover of John Waite’s “Missing You,” and Twenty Four Seven (1999).She also made several recordings for film soundtracks, including the James Bond title song “Goldeneye,” a U.K. top 10 hit, and “He Lives in You” for The Lion King 2.

In 1991, Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ike was unable to attend the ceremony, however, as he was serving time for drug possession. (He eventually died of an overdose in 2007.)

tina turner sings into a microphone with her head cocked to the left, she wears a black sequin top and gold jewelry

Tina Turner performs on stage in Berlin on January 26, 2009.
Getty Images

In 2008, the iconic entertainer embarked on her Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour, which became one of the highest-selling ticketed shows of 2008 and 2009. She announced that it would be her final tour and essentially retired from the music business save for occasional appearances and recordings.

Turner nonetheless continued to be a luminary of the musical world, appearing on the cover of a 2013 Dutch Vogue that was widely shared.

Religion

Turner collaborated with spiritual musicians Regula Curti and Dechen Shak-Dagsay for the release of Beyond: Buddhist and Christian Prayers in 2010, as well as for the follow-up albums Children Beyond (2011) and Love Within (2014). “The experience of singing prayers together allows us to deeply connect on an emotional level,” Turner explained to Billboard in 2010, “a place of love and respect where worldly differences fade.”

Previously, in the 1970s, a friend had introduced Turner to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, from which she found peace in the rituals of chanting. She adhered to the teachings of The Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist organization consisting of about 12 million Nichiren Buddhist practitioners.

Second Marriage to Erwin Bach

In 2013, news broke that 73-year-old Turner was engaged to her longtime partner, German record executive Erwin Bach. That July, they were married in Zurich, Switzerland, only months after Turner had gained her Swiss citizenship. She lived with Bach in Küsnacht near Zurich.

Later Years

In her 70s, Turner experienced several major health issues. Three months after her marriage to Bach in 2013, Turner suffered a stroke. In 2016, she was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. The next year, she had a kidney transplant, and Bach was the donor.

Returning to the spotlight in 2018, Turner was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (alongside other industry legends like Neil Diamond and Emmylou Harris) to open the year—an eventful one for the 78-year-old.

That March, Turner revealed that she had forgiven her ex-husband for his abusive behavior years ago. “As an old person, I have forgiven him, but it would not work with him,” she said in an interview with The Times of London. “He asked for one more tour with me, and I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Ike wasn’t someone you could forgive and allow him back in.”

tina turner stands on stage wearing a long sparkly dress, she smiles at the audience with one arm extended, she is surrounded by two people

Tina Turner and Adrienne Warren, who played Turner, during the opening night of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on November 7, 2019, in New York City
Getty Images

Then in April, fans were treated to a showcase of her greatest hits with the opening of TINA: The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre in London. It opened on Broadway in New York City the next fall.

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Over the summer of 2018, Turner learned that her oldest son, Craig, had been found dead at his home in Studio City, California, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The real estate agent was 59. She wrote about his death, among other things, in her second memoir My Love Story that published in October.

Three years later, in October 2021, Turner was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame again and this time as an individual. Early in the year, HBO released a biographical documentary called Tina that featured archival footage and interviews with Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, and others. Another honor that year came in the form of the Tina Turner Barbie doll.

In 2022, Turner’s son Ronnie died from colon cancer and cardiovascular disease at age 62. In an Instagram post, Turner wrote: “Ronnie, you left the world far too early. In sorrow I close my eyes and think of you, my beloved son.”

Death

At age 83, Turner died on May 24, 2023, in her home Küsnacht, Switzerland, near Zurich. A representative said she died peacefully after a long illness. In the 2010s, she had a stroke, was diagnosed with cancer, and had a kidney transplant.

Quotes

  • I always had long legs. When I was young, I used to think, “Why do I look like a little pony?”
  • Why did I fall so deeply in love? I think when you haven’t had that much love at home, and then you find someone you love, everything comes out.
  • I came into this lifetime with a job to finish. I finished it well. I’ve been told many reasons for why I lived through what I did. But I have never felt that I deserved it.
  • For anyone who’s in an abusive relationship, I say this: Go. Nothing can be worse than where you are now. You have to take care of yourself first—and then you take care of your children. They will understand later.
  • I believe all religion is about touching something inside of yourself. It’s all one thing. If we would realize this, we could make a change in this millennium.
  • Material things make me happy, but I am already happy before I acquire these things.
  • I’m very happy in Switzerland, and I feel at home here. I cannot imagine a better place to live.
  • I will never give in to old age until I become old. And I’m not old yet!
  • There comes a point where it is just undignified to be a rock ’n’ roll star.
  • I believe that if you’ll just stand up and go, life will open up for you.
  • There is no strict regimen that says when you are in your late 40s you cannot wear a minidress.
  • I don’t like to dwell on the past.
  • I need that on stage. I need a burst of life. That’s entertainment for me.
  • Rock songs inspire you to release whatever the frustrations and help you to go on in life. Spiritual songs do it on another level… A lot of people left my last show with the same sense of spirituality. My show gave people the drive to go and to do in their lives what they want to do and make their lives the best, do the best they can in this world… That is the mail I receive. My rock shows did the same as what my spiritual music does now.

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