Tina Turner, a symbol of talent triumphing over adversity, has died at 83
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Tina Turner has died after a long illness at home near Zurich, Switzerland. She was 83 years old. The multi-platinum selling pop, rock, and R&B singer was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice. NPR's Eric Deggans says her triumphant life story often inspired her fans but remained difficult for Turner to talk about.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST")
TINA TURNER: (Singing) You're simply the best, better than all the rest...
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Tina Turner's star power was always immediate and captivating. Armed with a hard-charging stage presence, she had dance moves and choreography that inspired everyone from Mick Jagger to Beyonce. Her eye for stagecraft led to eye-popping costumes and a skintight backing band. And her voice - bold as a Mack truck, steeped in gospel, R&B, and rock shadings - made formulaic pop songs sound like classics and brought added power to old favorites like her take on Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand The Rain."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T STAND THE RAIN")
TURNER: (Singing) Yeah, I know you've got some sweet memories, but there's the one sound that I just can't stand. I can't stand the rain...
DEGGANS: Beyond her performing skills, Turner had a life story that inspired millions and made her a legend. She survived abuse from her first husband, bandleader Ike Turner, divorced him, and then built a successful solo career which dwarfed her earlier work. It was a history that spawned several bestselling books, a musical, and an Oscar-nominated film. 1993's "What's Love Got To Do With It" featured Angela Bassett as Turner including a scene where she left Ike, running battered and bruised to a hotel.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?")
ANGELA BASSETT: (As Tina Turner) I'm Tina Turner. My husband and I just had a fight. I have 36 cents and a Mobil card. But if you would give me a room, I swear I will pay you back.
DEGGANS: Turner was celebrated for speaking up about abuse at a time when few people did. Still, the singer often said recounting her past abuse was traumatic. She'd hoped to end discussion when she talked about it in her 1986 memoir "I, Tina." Turner even made that point at a press conference as shown in this clip from the 2021 HBO documentary "Tina."
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TINA")
TURNER: I'm not so thrilled about thinking about the past. The story was actually written so that I would no longer have to discuss the issue. I don't love that it's always talked about, you see.
DEGGANS: Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, Turner was raised in the tiny town of Nutbush, Tenn., before moving to St. Louis. That's where she met Ike Turner and eventually began singing with his band. Ike wrote the song "A Fool In Love" for a different singer, but when she sang it in 1960, it became a rare crossover hit, scoring on Black-focused R&B and white-centered pop music charts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A FOOL IN LOVE")
IKE AND TINA TURNER: (Singing) You're just a fool, you know you're in love. What you say? You've got to face it to live in this world. You take the good along with the bad...
DEGGANS: Even as their musical partnership succeeded, Ike Turner became controlling and abusive. He picked the stage name Tina Turner for the singer without her knowledge. She found out when she saw the cover of "A Fool In Love's" single. And he remained paranoid she would leave him. She talked about those days with CBS anchor Gayle King in 2013.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TURNER: He was cruel because he depended on me. He didn't like that he had to depend on me. And I didn't want to start a fight because it was always a black eye, a broken nose, a busted lip.
DEGGANS: Tina Turner divorced Ike in 1978. Playing small shows in casinos, Turner initially resisted her manager's suggestion that she record a song she hated.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT")
TURNER: (Singing) What's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a second-hand emotion? What's love got to do...
DEGGANS: That single, released in 1984, became her first No. 1 hit and sparked a career revival that led to Grammy Awards, massive concert tours and a role opposite Mel Gibson in 1985's "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" playing an iron-fisted ruler rebuilding a town after an apocalypse.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME")
TURNER: (As Aunty Entity) All this I built. Where there was desert, now there's a town. Where there was robbery, there's trade. Where there was despair, now there's hope. Civilization - I'll do anything to protect it.
DEGGANS: She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice - in 1991 with Ike Turner and in 2021 as a solo artist. She retired from performing in 2009 and faced a series of health challenges in her later years including a stroke, intestinal cancer and kidney failure - treated by a kidney donated from her second husband and partner of more than 30 years, Erwin Bach. Through it all, Turner remained a symbol of talent triumphing over adversity, becoming widely celebrated as the queen of rock 'n' roll.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER BE GOOD TO ME")
TURNER: (Singing) Oh, you better be good to me...
DEGGANS: I'm Eric Deggans.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER BE GOOD TO ME")
TURNER: (Singing) That's how it's gotta be... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.