The world lost a treasured icon on May 24. Tina Turner, the rock goddess from Nutbush, Tennessee, had the essence of rock and roll deep in her bones. It spilled out on the stage when she was just a teen and catapulted her to stardom, at first as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, a coupling that would turn into a 16-year nightmare defined by domestic violence. Turner would finally find the inner courage to leave her abusive partner and find her voice—again–this time as a solo artist, and finally fulfill her childhood dream of stardom while creating a powerful anthem that would become a crying rally against domestic abuse. Here, EBONY revisits her 2021 documentary, Tina, and shares four lessons learned from the film about the late, great performer.
She was initially apprehensive to share her story of domestic violence.
Turner consulted her psychic before publicly revealing, in a People magazine article released in December 1981, the abuse she suffered while involved with former husband Ike Turner for 16 years. Initially apprehensive about detailing what happened to her, the psychic reassured Turner that it would break everything wide open, setting a path for other women to come forward to share their own harrowing stories of abuse.
Turner admits she felt often felt sorry for Ike after he would beat her. It was a strange sense of loyalty. “I was brainwashed. I was afraid of him and I cared what happened to him. I knew if I left, there was no one there to sing," she confessed in the documentary. "I was caught up in guilt and fear…two worst qualities for a young girl to be caught up into.”
Turner had experienced domestic violence firsthand as a child. She watched her mother suffer at the hands of her father until both disappeared from the family home. Left in the care of a cousin without provisions, Turner was forced to become independent at a young age. “I learned how much I loved my mother because I also hated her. I wanted her to come back for me."
Her daring escape from Ike Turner started with a chant but almost ended her life.
Before escaping Ike's abusive hands, Turner tried to commit suicide by taking an entire bottle of pain pills before a show. She didn’t make it to the stage. After Ike stuck his fingers down her throat to induce vomiting on the way to the venue, Turner was taken to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. He would later admit that she had tried to take her own life a couple of times.
Turner discovered Buddhism, drawn to its foundation because it promised change. Through its repetitive chants, she knew she had the inner strength to leave Ike. “You get into that sound of connecting back into the universe, making all kinds of realizations," she shares in the documentary. Turner actually did her chants on stage and invited the audience to chant with her.
Her exit from Ike was almost deadly. After being beaten in a car ride in Dallas, Texas, in 1976, Turner snuck out of a hotel room once Ike fell asleep and ran across the freeway with just her hand luggage. She was almost hit by a truck crossing the busy intersection to get to a Ramada Inn on the other side. With only 36 cents in her pocket, she told the hotel manager, “If he gave me a room, I’d send him the money. He gave me a very nice room.” An attorney friend arranged an airplane ticket for Turner the next day to an undisclosed location, on the Fourth of July, which she considered her "Freedom Day."
She took only one thing from her divorce and turned it into an empire.
Turner did not receive any money or physical assets during her divorce from Ike, finalized in 1978, but she was able to retain her name, Tina Turner, which she would transform into a rock and roll empire. After her divorce, to make ends meet for herself and her four sons (two from Ike's previous marriage, one with Kings of Rhythm saxophonist Raymond Hill and one with Ike), Turner performed just about anywhere and did television shows. She appeared on The Hollywood Squares in 1976 and The Brady Brunch Hour in 1977.
Her return to the big stage was facilitated by Roger Davies, an Australian manager who signed her to a recording contract even though she was a Black woman over 40 seeking to branch out on her own. Armed with that famous moniker, one that had been chosen by Ike based on the lead character of the 1955 TV series Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (and without Turner's knowledge or consent), Turner claimed back her pride and self-worth and would go on to become even more famous than she ever had been while partnered with her former abusive husband.
A haircut—and an anthem—put her back on top.
With her long hair representing the harrowing 16 years she had spent with Ike, Turner cut it for her rock and roll comeback and became a bonafide style goddess in the process. She did not like the original demo for her greatest single, "What's Love Got to Do With It," which was released in May 1984. “It was terrible and awful,” she exclaims in the documentary. Producers tweaked the melody to play up her soulful smoky vocals and her rendition went on to be her biggest-selling single. Famed photographer Ming Smith shot memorable photos of Turner during the song's music video shoot.
Turner received three awards at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards for "What's Love Got to Do With It": Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. In 2012, "What's Love Got to Do With It" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
By the age of 50, Turner was selling out 20,000-person arenas across the globe, fulfilling the prophecy written under her given name, Anna Mae Bullock, in her 1958 high school yearbook. It simply reads, "entertainer."
Watch Tina, the documentary, on MAX.