Musical trailblazer, icon and ageless beauty, Tina Turner was indeed the everywoman Chaka Khan celebrated. A titan of not just the music industry, she was also a powerful symbol of what any woman—but especially a Black woman—could overcome if she bet on herself.

Born Annie Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee in the Jim Crow South and raised in nearby Nutbush, Turner’s early life was no predictor of the great heights she would one day reach. Her father worked as an overseer of sharecroppers, and she picked cotton with her family at a very early age. When her parents went to Knoxville to work in a defense plant during World War II, she was split off from her two older sisters and landed with her very religious paternal grandparents. Singing in the church choir, she obtained her early music training. But, as she revealed in her 1986 memoir I, Tina, her parents never made her feel loved. That dagger hit even harder when her mother Zelma, fleeing Turner’s abusive father, left for St. Louis without her when she was just 11.

Prompted by her grandmother’s passing, she joined her mother in St. Louis at age 16, finishing high school there and later working as a nurse’s aide. Mesmerized by Ike Turner and his band the Kings of Rhythm’s performances, she became determined to sing with him. When he never called her for her shot, she took it, blowing him away with her rendition of a B.B. King ballad at a club where he was performing in 1957. From that moment on, she became not just a featured vocalist but a student of Ike’s, with him teaching her the finer points of her craft. Inspired by the comic books Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Nyoka the Jungle Girl, he later renamed her Tina. 

Her first hit “A Fool in Love” in 1960 reached No. 2 on the Hot R&B Sides and No. 27 on the Billboard 100, with many others following, including “Tra La La La La” and “You Can’t Miss Nothing You Never Had, in the decade. Throughout the early 1960s, they stayed on the road playing the chitlin circuit as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which included the Kings of Rhythm and the girl group, The Ikettes. Their high-energy shows and imaginative costuming made them a popular attraction, eventually landing them in the mainstream. 

Their 1966 single “River Deep—Mountain High” became a major turning point and landed them an opening spot on the Rolling Stones U.K. tour. Before the end of the next year, Tina Turner made history as the first female artist and first Black artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.  Her cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter” on their 1969 album of the same name earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. They also became a successful headlining act in Vegas, further raising their profile with music stars like Ray Charles, James Brown, Elvis Presly and David Bowie. In 1971, they achieved their biggest hit with “Proud Mary,” which reached No. 4 on the Hot 100, selling over a million copies and earning them a Grammy. 


Image: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images.

Throughout their rise, Turner hid her brutal abuse at the hands of her husband who was also frequently high off cocaine until she could not take it anymore. In Dallas, in 1976, they got into a brutal physical altercation and Tina fled Ike with just 36 cents to her name. When her divorce became final in March 1978, she was free but her career took hit. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, she re-emerged as a superstar on her own terms, hitting big with her 1984 smash album Private Dancer, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 in the U.K., at age 44. From that moment on, she continued to soar, with hits that included “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me” and the album’s title track, culminating in three Grammy wins at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards in 1985, including Record of the Year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

That record would become her theme song and a rallying cry to empower women everywhere. In 1993, Angela Bassett played the ultimate survivor in the classic film What’s Love Got to Do With It opposite Laurence Fishburne, earning an Oscar nomination. Prior to that watershed moment, Turner continued to rock on, releasing other solo albums, including her multiplatinum selling greatest hits compilation Simply the Best. And at the age of 50 and beyond, she rocked stages all over the world in a signature black leather miniskirt showing off her timeless legs and rocking a funky hairstyle that helped define what it meant to be the baddest in the game. In 1991, she was rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also appeared in films, most notably Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Though she left this country for Switzerland in 2000, even finding love again, her legacy was not done. In 2008, she performed alongside Beyoncé at the Grammy Awards, even taking another one home. She also embarked on her massive Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour. At the age of 73, she appeared on the cover of German Vogue. In 2019, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, written by Katori Hall, opened on Broadway, with lead actress Adrienne Warren later winning the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.


Singer Beyonce and Singer Tina Turner on stage at the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center on February 10, 2008. Image: Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Tina Turner passed away on May 24, 2023 at age 83 but her legacy of survival, female empowerment, style, grace and timeless excellence forever lives on.