36 years ago, in the wake of divorce, debt and dismal record sales, Turner came up with a sensational comeback. At 45 years old, an age when most pop singer’s careers are fading, Turner’s album Private Dancer, delivered her from commercial purgatory to become the singer’s biggest success.
Born Anna Mae Bullock to a sharecropper family in Nutbush Tennessee, Turner gained notice early, as she was singing in small clubs. As Anna Mae, she had all the usual vulnerabilities to men in charge: youth, lack of sophistication about contracts, eagerness to get a career started, plus one: Ike Turner. He was a regional band leader in East St. Louis and a musician who even then was known for his pink Cadillac. He realized she could be his ticket to the big time. Since her talent overshadowed his, he understood he had to control all access to her, so he made her his employee.
She began recording with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. The she married Ike and adopting the stage name Tina. They had six Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including a Grammy-winning cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s Proud Mary, which reached Number Four in 1971.
Behind the facade of the couple’s success, Ike was violently abusing Tina. She walked away in 1976, carrying only a Mobil credit card and 36 cents. They divorced two years later.
Freed from her marriage, Turner struggled professionally, playing small cabaret shows to settle debts while two solo albums fizzled. Her fortune changed when Olivia Newton-John invited Turner to appear on her 1979 television special, Olivia!. That appearance led to Turner meeting Roger Davies, who became her manager. He flew with Turner to England to work on Private Dancer, her debut on her new label Capitol Records.
Private Dancer brought Turner five solo Top 40 hits, including her first Number One single on the Pop and R&B charts, What’s Love Got To Do With It. Private Dancer went to Number Three in November 1984, with an astonishing 39-week run in the Top 10. Following Private Dancer, Turner had fourteen more hits on the Hot 100 through 1996.
It is her bestselling album both in the USA and internationally and it made her globally famous. It had four different production teams including Ian Craig Marsh of the New Wave band Heaven 17.
The album produced seven singles. Besides What’s Love Got To Do With It, there was also Better Be Good To Me, Private Dancer, and a cover of Al Green‘s Let’s Stay Together. Positively received by critics, Turner’s ability to give energy and raw emotion to slickly produced professional pop/rock songs softened her raw Southern Soul style. The album proved to be a landmark in Pop-Soul music.
The album was promoted throughout 1985 with a 177-date worldwide tour called the The Private Dancer Tour.
Private Dancer sold more than six million copies in the USA, around 250,000 each week for two months. Worldwide the album has sold over 25 million copies.
At the 1985 Grammy Awards, Private Dancer won four of the six awards for which it was nominated: Best Music Video, Best Video Long Form, Record Of The Year for What’s Love Got To Do With It, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; and Best Rock Vocal Performance.
In Robert Dimery‘s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, he writes that the album’s lyrical themes embodied her persona of a “tough, sexy woman schooled in a tough world”. The album is ranked Number 46 on Rolling Stone‘s list of The 100 Greatest Albums.
Private Dancer established Turner not only as a genuine Diva, but a Gay Icon and bona fide force of nature.
On December 12, 2007, Ike Turner died from a cocaine overdose. Tina issued a brief statement through her spokesperson, stating:
“Tina hasn’t had any contact with Ike in more than 30 years. No further comment will be made.”
Phil Spector criticized Turner at the funeral saying: “Ike made Tina the jewel she was.“
Turner made another comeback in February 2008; this time at the Grammy Awards where she performed with Beyoncé. Turner continued recording and touring through 2008. Now she is retired from performing and lives on a lake in Switzerland with her husband, German music producer Erwin Bach. She is a vegetarian and a Buddhist.
Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards, including three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Turner and Donna Summer are the only female artists to have concurrent Grammy nominations for Pop, Rock, and R&B. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, an award she shares with Ike who was in jail at the time and Tina did not attend. Turner received a 2005 Kennedy Center Honor.
In 2013, Turner applied for Swiss citizenship and relinquished her US citizenship. She took a mandatory citizenship test which included advanced German and Swiss history.
What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993) starred Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike; both received Oscar nominations. Turner was not really involved in the film, but she did contribute to the soundtrack, re-recording songs from her Ike & Tina days and recording a new song, I Don’t Wanna Fight, which was another Top 10 hit.
Although Broadway will not be back until late Spring 2021, the 2020 Tony nominations were announced last month the awards going virtually this year, at a date to be announced. There were a lot of wonderful Black productions, writers, performers, and creative talent nominated.
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, earned 12 Tony nominations. The musical, which had a predominantly Black cast, brought playwright Katori Hall a nomination for Best Book for a Musical. Adrienne Warren earned the nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Tina Turner. Daniel J. Watts, her co-star portraying Ike Turner, was nominated for Best Featured Actor in a musical, and theatre veteran Myra Lucretia Taylor was nominated for her role as Tina Turner’s grandmother.
Her bravery and her energy throughout her career make Tina Turner a true LGBTQ Icon. With her deep free vocal range and enthralling performances, plus her battle with domestic abuse and subsequent healing through discovering Buddhism make her an icon of endurance, growth, and survival, something that many LGBTQ people could identify with. Turner’s status as a Gay Icon is debatable to some. What’s not admirable about her to the typical LGBTQ person, let alone any person of any identity? She’s strong and she endured so much in her life to come out alive and happy on her 81st birthday today.
“It’s not what happens, but how you deal with it.”