By: Priscilla Wiredu
On May 24, 2023, the world lost one of the most famous singers. Tina Turner, noted as one of the pioneers of rock n roll, was 83 years old when she died peacefully in her home in Switzerland.
Not only was Turner a musical icon, her positive influence on pop culture along with her life struggles has made her an inspiration for many Black musicians everywhere.
The Early Years
Tina Turner, named Anna Mae Bullock at birth, was born on November 26, 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee. Tuner was the youngest offspring in her family. Her father was an overseer at a farm. She was related to famous bluesman Eugene Bridges. While her father was completing the World War Two draft, Turner spent a majority of her time living with her paternal grandparents. The family soon after moved to Knoxville where she attended school.
At the age of 11, her mother ran away to escape domestic abuse from her husband and two years later her family moved to Detroit. As a teenager, Bullock worked as a housemaid for a family. After graduating high school, she was a nurse’s assistant at Barnes, a Jewish Hospital.
Her Rise to Fame
Bullock had a passion and talent for singing; she sang in her local church choir as a preteen. After her high school graduation, she would turn to St. Louis, Missouri, where she would engage heavily within the rhythm and blues scene.
She met her ex-husband Ike Turner after viewing his band, the Kings of Rhythm, at a nightclub in 1956. Ike invited her to be a part of the band, and coined her as Tina Turner for the event name. Her electric presence gained fame and popularity; their 1960 hit “A Fool in Love” made the top charts, transforming the music scene.
Despite her renowned success, talent, and fame, Turner endured a traumatic life. After marrying Ike Turner in 1962, she suffered from domestic violence at the hands of Ike. She endured multiple beatings, infidelity, emotional abuse, and injuries throughout her marriage. She even suffered from third degree burns after Ike threw hot coffee in her face.
By 1976, Turner left Ike at the expense of being homeless, a drug addict, and losing money from her career in music.
Determined not to give up on her dreams, Turner persevered and rebranded herself to become the famed queen of rock n roll.
After retiring from singing in 2009, Turner suffered tremendous heartbreak in 2018 when her son, Craig Turner, died from suicide. In 2022, she had lost a second son, Ronnie, from complications due to colon cancer.
Turner herself suffered from kidney disease for many years. In 2013, she had a stroke which caused her to relearn how to walk. In 2016, Turner continued to show strength when she was confronted with a dangerous bout of cancer.
Why Tina Turner is an Icon
Upon the news of Turner’s death, many celebrities have shown sympathy towards her passing, noting her as one of the greatest singers to ever live. A seven-time Grammy award winner, a NAACP award recipient, and being inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it goes without saying that Tina Turner set the bar for a Black musician in Hollywood.
As one of the first very few Black female rock singers, Turner created a new image for the face of rock n roll. Her personality consisted of bright outfits, outrageous wigs, and heavy makeup. She had a gritty and strong voice that was unusual for rock n roll music, but she had the ability to make it sound edgy.
But quite possibly, Turner’s most memorable attribute was her resilience and triumph over her abusive husband. It was very bold of Turner to express to the public and discuss her experience dealing with domestic violence, divorce, and the aftermath of death in the family.
Female celebrities that discuss domestic abuse were considered taboo at the time, and were unheard of. But Turner refused to be silenced and wanted to use her superstar platform and voice to make a difference so that others would not feel alone. She wanted to prevent her fans from suffering from abusive relationships.
Having to deal with a sexist and racist society at the time, Turner managed to break free from abusive tendencies and work towards her goals as an artist.
Turner’s rise to fame in relation to her age also plays an integral part of her career. Pop icons usually begin to see success in their teens or early 20’s, but Turner began to see success in her 40’s, a prime example of how age is just a number when it comes to success among women. Turner demonstrates how overcoming life challenges can lead to tremendous growth and success in your career.
Tina Turner helped a generation of Black women feel included and powerful. Turner encouraged women to be authentic, to take control of their life independently, and to do what makes them happy.
Tina Turner created a space for Black women in rock n roll. She made a powerful generational and national impact that inspired other famous singers. She also has impactful memoirs about her journey to educate others about her dedicated work ethic and drive.
“With her death, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” said Bernard Doherty, Turner’s publicist, when the news of her death was released.
Priscilla Wiredu is a writer for this year’s Black Voice project. An alumni of York University, she graduated with Honors where she studied Social Sciences. She then went on to get an Ontario Graduate certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers, and a college certificate in Legal Office Administration at Seneca College. She is currently studying for the LSAT in hopes of going to law school. Her main goal as a Black Voices writer is to ensure Black issues and Black Pride are enunciated through her works.