For most, the name Tina Turner probably immediately summons up an image of the queen of rock ‘n’ roll. Since the release of her debut solo album, Private Dancer, in 1984, Turner has become one of the music industry’s best-known artists. Known for her dynamo voice and her epic rock anthems, Turner quickly became a superstar in the ’80s and ’90s. Her list of accolades is also pretty mind-boggling. With eight Grammys under her belt, Turner has certainly solidified her status as a music legend.
These days, Turner is no longer performing, but her impact on the world of music remains strong. It’s hard to imagine a time when Turner wasn’t the powerhouse we know and love today. But before she became Tina Turner, the international star, she was Anna Mae Bullock, a young girl from a tiny town in Tennessee. Ready to find out more about her journey? Here is the stunning transformation of Tina Turner.
Tina Turner grew up as Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee
Tina Turner was born in 1939 as Anna Mae Bullock, and she was raised in the tiny town of Nutbush, Tenn. As she wrote in her book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, as shared by You magazine, she spent her childhood running around the cotton fields of her family farm. Sadly, from very early on, Turner felt unwanted. She told Rolling Stone, “It was just a fact that my parents didn’t care that much for me. See, my mother didn’t want me in the first place.”
While her family wasn’t destitute, they also weren’t well off. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Turner explained, “We had food on the table. We just didn’t have fancy things, like bicycles.” When her parents relocated to Knoxville for work, Turner moved in with her father’s mother. “She was strict — the kind who starched and ironed dresses,” she said. For the outdoorsy Turner, life with her grandmother was “miserable.”
Then, Turner experienced another blow when her parents separated. As she explained, this led to bullying at school. “I got teased, and it interfered with my learning,” she recalled. With the strict grandmother, the school bullying, and the lack affection from her parents, Turner’s childhood was clearly a difficult one.
Tina Turner started singing at picnics and churches but didn't dream of becoming a singer
Tina Turner may not have had dreams of becoming a famous singer, but singing was always a part of her life. As a child, she told Oprah Winfrey, she sang “at church and at picnics” like many other children. In her book Happiness Becomes You (via You), Turner wrote, “When I finally got old enough to join the [church] choir, that was my sweet spot.” She was around 8 when she joined the choir. As she recalled, she was the youngest singer, but she still “had the biggest voice in the choir.”
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Turner explained that, despite her impressive voice, she didn’t initially consider a career in music. Instead, her family thought she might become a nurse or a teacher. “In my heart of hearts,” Turner said, “I knew those paths wouldn’t be mine.”
Tina Turner fell madly in love in high school
After being bullied by her grandmother and schoolmates, things got a little brighter for Tina Turner in high school when she had her first experience of falling in love – with a boy named Harry. She told told Oprah Winfrey, “I think when you haven’t had that much love at home, and then you find someone you love, everything comes out.” For Turner, the high school romance was everything she could have hoped for. “He was the most good-looking guy,” she recalled. “Everything was in the right place — his eyes, his nose, his mouth. He was a basketball star.”
As Turner went on to explain, she had her first sexual experience with Harry. When her grandmother found out, she was forbidden from dating him. At the time, Turner’s feelings for Harry made her think he would be her future, and she was interested in getting married and starting a family. She said, “Harry would have been the one.” Of course, things turned out differently, and when she bumped into Harry’s son years later, she thought, “My God, that must have been from another lifetime.”
Meeting Ike Turner changed Tina Turner's life
Despite her clear talent for music, Tina Turner didn’t think of becoming a professional in the music industry until she met Ike Turner. As she told Oprah Winfrey in an interview (via Oprah.com), she was 17 when she, her mother, and her sister moved to St. Louis. There, she and her sister went to see Ike in concert. “His music charged me,” she recalled. “I was never attracted to him,” she said, “but I wanted to sing with his band.”
She met Ike, and when she finally had the chance to sing, he said, “Girl, I didn’t know you could sing!” Tina Turner cites this as the moment when she knew she wanted to be a singer.
Ike then essentially gave her a full makeover, buying her new clothes and getting her hair done and her teeth fixed. The two became incredibly close — “like brother and sister,” as Tina said. The pair confided in each other. When Ike revealed how he had been hurt in the past, Tina thought, “I’ll never hurt you.” This was the beginning of the relationship that would kickstart her career, but it eventually became abusive and almost impossible for Tina to escape.
Tina Turner's singing career began with Ike Turner
After Ike Turner heard Tina Turner sing, he decided they should join forces. Anna Mae Bullock became Tina Turner, and the couple became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Their R&B song “A Fool in Love” was a hit on the pop charts. The pair married in 1962, and they continued to make music. They went on to have a series of top 10 R&B hits, but it wasn’t until their 1971 cover of “Proud Mary” that they really hit the mainstream (via Biography).
Their musical act was hugely successful — but, as The Guardian noted, Tina was never free to be her own artist within the group. “[Ike] aimed to pimp her out in their act as animalistic, feral, wild and untamed,” The Guardian explained. And while she was experiencing global fame and success, Tina Turner was dealing with horrific abuse behind the scenes.
Tina Turner suffered in an abusive marriage to Ike Turner until their divorce in 1977
For the entirety of Tina Turner’s marriage to Ike Turner, her musical and romantic partner, she suffered terrible physical abuse. As she told Oprah Winfrey in an interview, it began shortly after they recorded their first song, “A Fool in Love.” When she tried to leave then, she recalled, “That was the first time I really got a beating from Ike.” The abuse went on for a decade and a half. “It was a thoroughly unhappy situation I was in,” Turner told Rolling Stone, “but I was too far gone.” She was terrified to leave and didn’t know where she would go.
Eventually, the situation got so bad that Turner became suicidal. In her book My Love Story, she detailed how the horrific violence led to a suicide attempt in which she took dozens of sleeping pills. “He broke my jaw. And I couldn’t remember what it was like not to have a black eye,” she wrote of her pain (via Independent).
In 1976, she made a radical, life-changing decision — she decided to leave. As she told Jonathan Ross, she didn’t have much money or a place to escape, but she decided she had to try.
If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. You can also find more information, resources, and support at www.thehotline.org.
Tina Turner discovered Buddhism in the '70s and felt reborn
Living through over a decade of abuse at the hands of Ike Turner took both a physical and a mental toll on Tina Turner. By the mid-’70s, she wrote in her book Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, as shared by You magazine, she was “often distraught and exhausted from the abuse.” She then explained how she found some respite in Buddhism. “One day, our sound engineer said something different to me. ‘Tina, you should try chanting. It will help you change your life,'” she recalled.
As Turner explained, Buddhism did change her life. “When I first received the gift of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, it marked the beginning of a new life for me in more ways than I could have imagined.” Buddhist chanting helped Turner to feel stronger and more in tune with life. In fact, Turner thinks that the strength she found from her chanting is what made it possible for her to escape from domestic abuse.
Tina Turner's solo career began with a three-night run in New York
After leaving Ike Turner, Tina Turner was finally free to pursue the career that she wanted. In an interview on Ann Delisi’s Essential Music, she explained that, even though she left her marriage with no money, she left with something else: life lessons. “I learned how to survive with Ike. I learned how to perform. I learned how to cover songs, and work without a record,” she explained.
At first, she performed in the Las Vegas cabaret circuit to make ends meet, as noted by Forbes. Then, Turner joined forces with the talent manager Roger Davies. Davies set up a three-night run in New York at the Ritz. After the sold-out run, it was clear that Turner had a big future as a solo artist. “That was the real beginning of it,” Turner recalled.
Meeting Davies helped Turner find her footing and launch a new career. Their meeting felt like fate, as they were both looking to grow in the industry.
Tina Turner's first solo album made a big splash
Tina Turner’s first solo album, Private Dancer, was released in 1984 when she was 45 (via WDET). The album catapulted her to international stardom as a solo artist and marked the beginning of a brand new, much happier life and career overseas. “Private Dancer was the beginning of my success in England, and basically Europe has been very supportive of my music,” she told Larry King in a 1997 interview. She went on to explain that she was “as big as Madonna” in Europe.
Turner certainly did rise to superstardom after her first album. Her song “What’s Love Got to Do With It” reached No. 1 on the charts and won Grammys for both Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In the years that followed, she released more hit albums and performed at huge venues. Soon, she was known around the world as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll (via Forbes).
As her fame grew, Tina Turner refused to let racism or discrimination hold her back
As a Black female music artist working throughout the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, Tina Turner frequently found herself coming up against systemic racism. In a 2000 interview on 60 Minutes II, Turner explained that she had never let racism bother her, noting that she didn’t care if she had to enter through a back door (via Deseret News). She added, “I’ve never been bothered by my color. If the whole world was like that, maybe there would be more harmony and love.”
She went into more detail in an interview with Harvard Business Review, explaining that Buddhism helped her to see past racial differences. Of course, others didn’t have the same views. “When I started as a solo artist,” she recalled, “I was a female Black singer in my forties with no money and few prospects for gigs. Still, I kept a ‘never give up’ spirit.” Buddhism also helped her to remain positive in the face of discrimination. “Part of my spiritual practice is to ‘change poison into medicine,'” she said. “The force of my positivity pushed all the discriminatory ‘isms’ standing in my way right out the window.”
Tina Turner moved to Zurich in 1995 with Erwin Bach, her new partner
In addition to finding success as a solo artist, Tina Turner started enjoying a personal life that began to look better and better. Turner started dating the German businessman Erwin Bach in 1986. At the time, he was working for her record company and he’d been sent to meet her at the airport in Germany. “I instantly felt an emotional connection,” she told People. Even though she felt nervous about the prospect of new love, she explained that she “made it a priority to get to know Erwin.” Eventually, the relationship would become what Turner calls her “one true marriage.”
In 1995, the pair moved to Zurich, settling in a mansion on Lake Zurich. As she told Blick (via The Local), “I am very happy in Switzerland and I feel at home here.” She added, “I could not imagine a better place to live.” In 2013, Turner became a Swiss citizen.
In 2009, Tina Turner gave up performing to spend more time at home
After spending several decades with a thriving solo career, Tina Turner finally decided to retire from performing live in 2009. As the singer explained on The Jonathan Ross Show, she was simply ready to spend more time at home. “You know, I was always away from home, always away from home,” she said. She went on to say that spending so much time on tour meant she had no time to do domestic things like shopping and decorating. “Always airplanes, buses, cars, trains,” she recalled. “And I just really got tired of partying every night, every year,” she said.
In 2019, ten years after her retirement, Turner couldn’t have been happier. As she told The New York Times, “I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t dress up.” Having experienced a full and long career, she confessed that she didn’t miss it, either.
And to the Harvard Business Review, she said, “My retirement has given me more time to relax and reflect,” she said. It also gave her the chance to write her book Happiness Becomes You about her spirituality.
Tina Turner mourned the death of her eldest son in 2018
Tina Turner’s eldest son, Craig Turner, was 59 when he was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home in 2018, as reported by People. His death was a huge shock for Tina, who had no idea he was struggling with his mental health. As she told BBC News, Craig had fallen in love and was planning on introducing his new girlfriend to his mother. “I still don’t know what took him to the edge, because at that stage he had said to me that he had never met a woman that he felt that way about,” she said.
Later that month, Tina posted a statement on Twitter when she spread his ashes. “My saddest moment as a mother,” she wrote. “On Thursday, July 19 2018, I said my final goodbye to my son, Craig Raymond Turner, when I gathered with family and friends to scatter his ashes off the coast of California. He was fifty-nine when he died so tragically, but he will always be my baby.” Along with her statement, Tina posted a touching image of her holding a rose over the edge of a boat.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Tina Turner faced a series of medical issues but persevered
After retiring from singing, Tina Turner experienced a scary series of health scares — she overcame both a stroke and a cancer scare. As she told Harvard Business Review, she tried to let these negative experiences have a positive impact. “I choose to be hopeful and to honor each experience in my life, negative and positive, as a chance to increase my wisdom, courage, and compassion,” she said.
As Turner told The Guardian, her Buddhist practice helped her face these health scares one by one. “I summoned up my inner lion and overcame each health problem that came along. Illness has given me a greater appreciation for health and reminds me to enjoy each day to its fullest,” she said. Her bravery and perseverance is truly incredible.
As her interviewer described it, “I felt her life force… It was this life force that brought true love into her life and moved her through the suicide of her eldest son, as well as her own cancer, strokes and other difficult health conditions.” Looking back on Turner’s life, it’s remarkable just how much she has overcome with sheer will and positivity.
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