‘Simply the best’: Singer Tina Turner dies at 83

The What’s Love Got to Do with It singer who won eight Grammy Awards died in Switzerland after long illness.

Tina Turner
Singer Tina Turner on the closing night of her Twenty Four Seven Tour at the Arrowhead Pond arena in Anaheim, California, December 6, 2000 [Rose Prouser/Reuters]

Tina Turner, the American-born singer who left a farming community and an abusive relationship to become one of the top recording artists of all time, has died at the age of 83.

She died peacefully on Wednesday after a long illness in her home in Kusnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, her representative said.

Turner began her career in the 1950s, during the early years of rock and roll and evolved into an MTV phenomenon.

(Al Jazeera)

In the video for her chart-topping song, What’s Love Got to Do with It, in which she called love a “second-hand emotion”, Turner epitomised 1980s style as she strutted through New York City streets with her spiky blond hair, wearing a cropped jean jacket, mini-skirt, and stiletto heels.

With her taste for musical experimentation and bluntly worded ballads, Turner gelled perfectly with a 1980s pop landscape in which music fans valued electronically produced sounds and scorned hippie-era idealism.

Nicknamed the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Turner won six of her eight Grammy Awards in the 1980s.

Nina Turner
Tina Turner and Mick Jagger at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York, January 18, 1989 [Stringer/Reuters]

The decade saw her land a dozen songs on the Top 40, including, Typical Male, The Best, Private Dancer, and, Better Be Good to Me. Her 1988 show in Rio de Janeiro drew 180,000 people, which remains one of the largest concert audiences for any single performer.

By then, Turner had been free from her marriage to guitarist Ike Turner for a decade.

The superstar was forthcoming about the abuse she suffered from her former husband during their marital and musical partnership in the 1960s and 1970s. She described bruised eyes, busted lips, a broken jaw and other injuries that repeatedly sent her to the emergency room.

“Tina’s story is not one of victimhood but one of incredible triumph,” singer Janet Jackson wrote about Turner, in a Rolling Stone issue that placed Turner at number 63 on a list of the top 100 artists of all time.

“She’s transformed herself into an international sensation – an elegant powerhouse,” Jackson said.

In 1985, Turner gave a fictional turn to her reputation as a survivor. She played the ruthless leader of an outpost in a nuclear wasteland, acting opposite Mel Gibson in the third instalment in the Mad Max franchise, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Most of Turner’s hit songs were written by others, but she enlivened them with a voice that New York Times music critic Jon Pareles called “one of the more peculiar instruments in pop”.

“It’s three-tiered, with a nasal low register, a yowling, cutting middle range and a high register so startlingly clear it sounds like a falsetto,” Pareles wrote in a 1987 concert review.

She was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939, in the rural Tennessee community of Nutbush, which she described in her 1973 song, Nutbush City Limits, as a “quiet little old community, a one-horse town”.

Her father worked as an overseer on a farm and her mother left the family when the singer was 11 years old, according to the singer’s 2018 memoir, My Love Story. As a teenager, she moved to St Louis to rejoin her mom.

Tina Turner
Tina Turner in concert in Cologne, Germany on January 14, 2009 [Hermann J Knippertz/AP Photo]

Ike Turner, whose 1951 song, Rocket 88, has often been called the first rock-and-roll record, discovered her at age 17 when she grabbed the mic to sing at his club show in St Louis.

The band leader later recorded a hit song, A Fool In Love, with his protege and gave her the stage name Tina Turner, before the two married in Tijuana, Mexico.

Turner left her husband Ike one night in 1976 on a tour stop in Dallas after he beat her during a car ride and she struck back, according to her memoir. Their divorce was finalised in 1978.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted Ike and Tina Turner in 1991, calling them “one of the most formidable live acts in history.” Ike Turner died in 2007.

After leaving her husband, Turner spent years struggling to regain the limelight, releasing solo albums and singles that flopped and gigging at corporate conferences.

In 1980, she met her new manager, Roger Davies – an Australian music executive who went on to manage her for three decades. That led to a solo number 1 – What’s Love Got to Do With It – and then in 1984 her album, Private Dancer, landed her at the top of the charts.

Private Dancer, went on to become Turner’s biggest album, the capstone of a career that saw her sell more than 200 million records in total.

In 1985, Turner met German music executive Erwin Bach who became her long-term partner and in 1988, she moved to London, beginning a decades-long residency in Europe. She released two studio albums in the 1990s that sold well, especially in Europe, recorded the theme song for the 1995 James Bond movie, GoldenEye, and staged a successful world tour in 2008 and 2009.

After that, she retired from show business. She married Bach, relinquishing her US citizenship and becoming a citizen of Switzerland.

She battled several health problems after retiring and in 2018, she faced a family tragedy, when her oldest son, Craig, took his own life at age 59 in Los Angeles. Her younger son Ronnie died in December 2022.

She is survived by Bach and two sons of Ike’s that she adopted.

Fans, celebrities and politicians paid tribute to the late singer on Wednesday. “She was simply the best,” US Congresswoman Jennifer McClellan wrote on Twitter.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Turner’s death “incredibly sad news” and a “massive loss” to fans and the music industry. “Her music will live, will continue to live on,” she said.

US President Joe Biden likewise weighed in to remember the music icon.

“In addition to being a once-in-a-generation talent that changed American music forever, Tina’s personal strength was remarkable,” he said in a White House statement. “Overcoming adversity, and even abuse, she built a career for the ages and a life and legacy that were entirely hers.”

Canadian singer Bryan Adams also eulogised Turner. “I’ll be forever grateful for the time we spent together on tour, in the studio and as friends. Thank you for being the inspiration to millions of people around the world for speaking your truth and giving us the gift of your voice,” he wrote in a social media post.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters