Step by step, song by song
MUSIC | Tina Turner overcame a lot to become a superstar
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“Some people are afraid to climb a ladder unless someone’s holding it,” said Zelma Bullock of her daughter Anna Mae. “But she’s not. Once she makes that first step on that ladder, she keeps climbing.”
Anna Mae Bullock, who died in May at the age of 83, was better known as Tina Turner, the name bestowed on her by her musical partner and first husband, Ike Turner. Together, they scored six Top 10 R&B hits between 1960 and 1971 and lit up the club circuit as leaders of the high-energy Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
But by the time the album Private Dancer made Tina a solo superstar in 1984, she and Ike had been divorced for six years. During that period, she pulled back the cover on the horrific details of the physical and psychological abuse to which he’d subjected her throughout their 16-year marriage, hoping to put the nightmare behind her by getting it out in the open.
Her strategy backfired. The more she revealed, the more people wanted to know. Even while selling out stadiums and placing one single after another on the charts, the Ike question dogged her.
So she told her story—and had her story told for her—again and again, in biographies and autobiographies, on film, and on Broadway. Her status as a bloody but unbowed survivor fueled her status as a pop-music icon and vice versa. Both proved inspirational to her millions of fans as well as to her continuously growing list of celebrity friends.
Spiritually, Turner was eclectic. As a child, she sang in the Baptist church of her tiny Tennessee hometown; as an adult she sought guidance from psychics and peace of mind from Nichiren Shōshū Buddhism, adding Deepak Chopra and Dante to her mix late in life.
In 2013, Turner married the music executive Erwin Bach after cohabiting with him for over 25 years. Otherwise, her offstage conduct was a model of class and decorum. A mother to four boys (one hers, two belonging to Ike, one both hers and Ike’s), she insisted that they do their homework and refrain from not only profanity but slang as well—anything to keep them from following in Ike’s footsteps.
Her miniskirted onstage persona she referred to as “sexy but not sexual.” George W. Bush once said that she had the most famous legs in show business. Neither James Brown nor Michael Jackson had anything on her dancing. (If anyone’s genius was ever literally 99 percent perspiration, it was hers.) And she never appeared in public, not even when undergoing covert dialysis treatment in Switzerland, without a wig.
She released her last album of new material in 1999. She concluded her final tour 10 years later. Turner proved that one could overcome almost anything. And she did so with aplomb.