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Tina Turner was a dynamic rock and soul singer who rose from humble beginnings and overcame a notoriously abusive marriage to become one of the most popular female artists of all time.
She was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 to poor sharecroppers near Nutbush, Tennessee, a rural community north of Memphis that she later made famous in her autobiographical song, “Nutbush City Limits.” She spent her early years living with her grandmother after her parents split.
“We weren’t in poverty. We had food on the table. We just didn’t have fancy things, like bicycles,” Turner said in a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“We were church people, so on Easter, we got all done up. I was very innocent and didn’t know much else. I knew the radio — B.B. King, country and western,” Turner said. “That’s about it. I didn’t know anything about being a star until the white people allowed us to come down and watch their television once a week.”
Following the death of their grandmother in the 1950s, Turner and her sister Ruby moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to live with their mother.
It was in St. Louis that she began to visit some of the local clubs and met musician Ike Turner, whose band, Kings of Rhythm, were popular in the area. He recruited her at age 17 to join his band as a singer.
“Ike had to come to the house and ask Ma if it was OK for me to sing with him. He knew I had the potential to be a star. We were close, like brother and sister,” Turner told Winfrey.
She began performing as Tina Turner and, in 1960, they formed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
Their relationship evolved and their son Ronnie was born that same year. They married in 1962 and raised four children, including two children from Ike’s previous relationships and Tina’s son, Craig, also from a previous relationship.
A riveting live performer, Turner had a string of R&B hits in the 1960s and early ’70s with her domineering and violent husband Ike Turner before she left him — fleeing their Dallas hotel room with 36 cents.
Her solo career floundered for years before she mounted a stunning comeback in 1984 with her multiplatinum album “Private Dancer” and its No. 1 hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Before long Turner was a global superstar, commanding MTV with her spiky wigs, short skirts and famously long legs strutting across concert stages in three-inch heels.
Her talent earned her acclaim as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” while her resiliency made her a hero to battered women everywhere. When she sang of pain and heartache in her husky, full-throated voice, every word rang true.
“For a long time I felt like I was stuck, with no way out of the unhealthy situation I was in,” she told Harvard Business Review in 2021. “But then I had a series of encounters with different people who encouraged me … And once I could see myself clearly, I began to change, opening the way to confidence and courage. It took a few years, but finally I was able to stand up for my life and start anew.”
Read more about Turner’s extraordinary life.