Honoring the legendary vocalist, who transformed rock, soul, and pop music (1939–2023)
Pouring pain and experience and raw sensuality into performances that mixed rock, soul, and blues, singer-songwriter Tina Turner was a wellspring of uncontainable energy. Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, in 1939, Turner sang in church choirs before featuring in The Kings of Rhythm, an R&B band led by her future husband Ike Turner—from whom she would suffer more than a decade of abuse. She channeled that emotion to turn Creedence Clearwater Revival’s gently rolling “Proud Mary” into a tear-the-roof-off anthem and imbue 1973’s semi-autobiographical “Nutbush City Limits” with a self-aware wit. Her show-stealing turn as The Acid Queen in 1975’s film version of The Who’s Tommy only further highlighted her range and hinted at the chart-topping force she’d become. After divorcing Ike and reclaiming her independence in the late ’70s, Turner became a watchword for liberation and self-empowerment at a time when there wasn’t much vocabulary for it. She reinvented herself as a wounded-but-wise R&B singer, chronicling the often devastating complexities of romance with the intimacy and strength of a survivor—particularly on her 1984 pop breakthrough, Private Dancer. In anyone else’s hands, songs such as “Better Be Good to Me” and "What’s Love Got to Do With It” are breezy FM-radio tunes; in Turner's, they're real-life examinations of how destructive emotions can be—a perspective you can still hear in the toughness and vulnerability of Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige. That grace and confidence carried on through the ensuing decades of her work, whether as the singer of 1989's triumphant “The Best,” the actor in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the author of the frank memoir I, Tina, a style icon, a hero to victims of domestic abuse, or an adherent of Buddhism, whose teachings fueled her creatively and spiritually since the ’70s. Speaking to Oprah Winfrey in 2005, she said, “I want my gift to become a gift for others. We're caught in a stagnant belief system passed on to us from our parents and what’s been given from the churches. I believe there’s another truth. Dancing and singing is all good—but the ultimate gift is to change people’s minds.” Turner died in May 2023 at the age of 83.