The Kennedy Center

Tina Turner


Tina Turner
(singer, actress; born in Brownsville, Tennessee, November 26, 1939)

She helped put the soul back in rock and roll, fused genres and raised American popular music to frenzied levels of international adulation and excitement. She embodies the best and the earthiest meaning of women in rock. Her Cinderella tale is a constant source of inspiration to generations of fans. The whole world seems to know her story, both from her best-selling autobiography I, Tina and from the Oscar-nominated film based on that book. But there is always more to Tina Turner, who has overcome what to many would seem insurmountable odds and each time has risen like the phoenix in full splendor. Hers is a life of both tragedy and hope, of rising and falling stardom, of adversity and triumph, of faith and of renewal. It is a tale of the glory of American song.

"Like Billie Holiday in her later years," wrote the critic Stephen Holden in the New York Times, "she conveys a wounded but indomitable sensuality." Over the decades, her voice has grown in its raw and grainy, leathery power even as it has remained firmly grounded in rock-solid gospel technique." Turner herself famously divides her singing moods as either "nice and easy" or "nice and rough," at once pleading and defiant, primal in its power. She is a feminist model, a champion of equal rights, a sexy fighter who makes her case simply by singing and singing beautifully, whose career has paved the way for other women's paths to stardom from Janis Joplin to Madonna. From the now historic "Proud Mary" and the autobiographical "Nutbush City Limit," right through "Acid Queen," "Private Dancer," We Don't Need Another Hero," "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and whatever she chooses to sing next, Tina Turner's is a refreshing font of affirmation and surprise. And, in her sixties as in her teens, she remains the truest rock diva of all.

She was born Anna Mae Bullock, in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1939, the daughter of migrant workers who soon abandoned her to the care of her grandmother. She grew up dirt-poor in rural Nutbush, worked in the cotton fields as a child, and found a ray of hope while singing in her church choir. Following the death of her grandmother, the youngster moved in with relatives in St. Louis, just before turning 17. It was there that she met Ike Turner, whose hot dance band The Kings of Rhythm headlined the bill at St. Louis' Manhattan Club. It was Ike who renamed Anna Mae, Tina, soon changing the band's name to the Ike and Tina Turner Review and creating what Richard Harrington in The Washington Post has called " one of the most explosive stage shows in America." With Ike and Tina's 1966 "River Deep, Mountain High" and crucially with their 1971 interpretation of John Fogerty's rambunctious and saucy "Proud Mary," the leggy girl with the raspy belt of a voice became an icon of rock and roll. As Tina Turner's star rose, Ike Turner's behavior towards his wife grew abusive, his artistic control erratic. Tina began breaking away on her own, starring as the Acid Queen in Ken Russell's film version of The Who's Tommy, exploring new musical avenues she would pursue only later, finding private solace in the Buddhist faith. She left the abusive marriage in 1976, with only the clothes on her back, penniless and unsure of the prospects of a career on her own. The actress Ann-Margret, a friend from the Tommy set, took her in. Other friends, such as Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger, helped in staging her comeback. And what a comeback it was, a success that eclipsed even her glory days as half of the Ike and Tina Turner Review. A Grammy winner once before, Tina Turner on her own went on to win six more Grammys. "Private Dancer," "Better be Good To Me" and "What's Love Got To Do With It?" would sell more than 11 million copies. Her incandescent cameo in Live Aid, her starring role opposite Mel Gibson in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and best-selling autobiography put Tina Turner back in the spotlight, strutting in high heels and rasping from the heart. "I may be bruised," she sang, "but I ain't broke." And, if the lyrics are true that we don't need another hero, we certainly need this unique musical heroine, Tina Turner, to sing songs and celebrate life for America and the world.

September 2005
Tina Turner