A tigress, a lioness, a panther... All these feline comparisons may sound very cliché, but they perfectly characterise Tina Turner who passed away on the 24th of May 2023 in Küsnacht, Switzerland, not far from Zurich. Without the woman, who was born on the 26th of November 1939 under the name of Anna Mae Bullock, hordes of rock, rhythm’n’blues, soul and funk singers would never have been birthed. From Betty Davis to Beyoncé to Macy Gray, all have paid their dues to Tina Turner Inc.

TINA (2021) Official Trailer | HBO


Tina Turner was a powerful vocalist, a kind of singing tsunami that could twist the neck of a word, phrase or chorus to make it her own. She was also a strong and emancipated woman, a pioneer of feminine activism symbolised by her complex and violent relationship with her husband, the talented yet borderline Ike Turner, with whom she recorded multiple beautiful albums. Finally, there was her unexpected comeback in the 1980s, during which she exploded the records, filling stadiums and even cinemas, notably in her charismatic role of Aunty Entity in Beyond Thunderdome, the third episode of the Mad Max saga by the Australian George Miller.

Before reaching this point, Tina Turner had to extricate herself from a complicated childhood in Tennessee and her unloving parents. Raised by her grandmother, she wrote in her autobiography Moi, Tina, published in 1986, that she had been an unwanted child. As a child, her voice would resonate in church pews at weekends and then in the clubs of St Louis with her sister. One evening, Anna Mae’s path crossed that of Izear Luster “Ike” Turner Jr, 8 years her senior. For her, the spark was instantaneous and in 1957 she joined the band of this young songwriter who created a nervous rhythm’n’blues with a rock’n’roll soul. With the 1960 single A Fool in Love, the public discovered the woman, who was now called Tina instead of Anna, and clawed at every syllable of her already roaring voice like no other. It was such a success that Ike renamed his show the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which included the Kings of Rhythm and a gang of backing singers called the Ikettes. During the sixties, only James Brown’s show rivalled the power and charisma of Ike and Tina. Even in the charts, the couple had a string of hits on a host of labels (Loma, Sue, Kent, Cenco, Tangerine, Pompeii, A&M, Minit...).

Ike & Tina Turner Revue "Proud Mary" on The Ed Sullivan Show

The Ed Sullivan Show

In 1965, producer Phil Spector also fell under their spell and wanted to produce them as soon as possible. In the spring of the following year, he laid down his legendary wall of sound on their single River Deep - Mountain High, the success of which opened the doors to international recognition. Ike and Tina joined the Rolling Stones on their UK tour in the autumn of 1966, and a year later Tina became the first black artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine! The early seventies were just as prosperous, and with their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, they scored their biggest hit. Their repertoire also included many other viscerally rock songs (Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin) that Tina’s voice and Ike’s guitar made 1000% their own. In terms of albums, they recorded a good twenty records, the most memorable of which is the brilliant Workin’ Together, released by Liberty Records in November 1970.

Behind the scenes, however, the story was less rosy, and Ike’s violent behaviour towards his wife and his rampant cocaine use led to an inevitable separation in 1976 and a divorce two years later. Now a solo artist, Tina Turner certainly kept up a steady stream of recordings and concerts, but the situation had drained her spirit and the public began to distance themselves from her, viewing her more and more as something of the past, an outdated artist...

Tina Turner - Lets Stay Together (Official Music Video)

Tina Turner

In 1983, however, Capitol signed her, and the cover of Al Green’s brilliant Let’s Stay Together that Tina Turner recorded for the label was a huge hit in Europe. Capitol gave her 15 days to build on this triumph and complete an album: Private Dancer, released in May 1984, sold over 10 million copies! The biggest hit of Tina’s career! The icing on the cake was the other single from the album, What’s Love Got to Do with It, which took her to her one and only No.1 spot on the Billboard charts. Between a duet with David Bowie (the cover of Iggy Pop’s Tonight), a flurry of Grammies (three in 1985) and her role in Mad Max, Tina Turner was at the zenith of her career at the age of 46. In September 1985, her next album, Break Every Rule, her sixth solo effort, was another smash hit. Even on stage Tina exploded, as in January 1988, when she performed in front of 180,000 people at the legendary Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro!

The following decade saw no let-up. In 1991, Ike & Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (he was behind bars, she preferred to stay at home on the night of the ceremony) and, two years later, their lives were brought to the big screen in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. In 1995, Tina sang the theme for the James Bond film GoldenEye, written by Bono and U2′s The Edge... From the dawn of the 2000s until her death, Tina Turner performed occasionally, released a few compilations and even duetted with Beyoncé (Proud Mary), but mostly lived away from the spotlight, sometimes busy with treatment (intestinal cancer in 2016) or facing life’s trials (her son’s suicide in 2018). A life that has just come to an end, but will continue to leave its span on people for many decades to come...