This article appeared in the May 25, 2023 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Tina Turner: Her story of overcoming adversity, earning freedom

Hermann J. Knippertz/AP/File
Tina Turner performs in a concert in Cologne, Germany, Jan. 14, 2009.
Ken Makin

Tina Turner, the “Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll,” wore many things well – flashy dresses and sensationally self-made wigs, among other fashionable items. She also wore her smile in a way that brought life to Maya Angelou’s words in the poem “Phenomenal Woman” – “the curl of my lips.”

That sensuous smirk stood out notably in a 1997 interview with TV host Larry King, which made the rounds after Ms. Turner died on Wednesday. In that interview, Ms. Turner explained her exodus from America – and alluded to another important separation.

“I left America because my [biggest] success was in another country and my boyfriend was in another country,” she said. “Europe has been very supportive of my music.”

When Mr. King later asked about her ex-husband, musician Ike Turner, she offered a one-word response: “Who?”

Ms. Turner earned her freedom, both as an entertainer and lover. Her suggestion in the King interview that she experienced success rivaling the Rolling Stones spoke to a country and a culture that often waited too late to appreciate Black women in pop.

“Anna Mae Bullock,” as she was born, was a callback – to the harsh realities of systemic racism and spousal abuse. It was a reminder of her Tennessee upbringing, the lineage of sharecropping, and her domestic servitude.

“Tina Turner” was an expression of emancipation. Her persona burst onto the scene passionately with “Proud Mary,” which in her hands became a soul-stirring personal commentary chronicling servitude to stardom. 

Mary was a fitting name that captured the duality of Ms. Turner. Onomatology suggests that Mary means “beloved,” and also “bitterness.”

Ms. Turner was the recipient of 12 Grammy Awards, including three in 1985 for the song “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame both as a solo artist and as a duo with Mr. Turner. And her 1988 concert before 180,000 people in Rio de Janeiro set a record for audience attendance.

It’s hard not to see Ms. Turner’s influence on entertainers such as Beyoncé, or feel her essence in Mary J. Blige’s tales of tragedy. In all honesty, the entire industry mimics her excellence.

Yet the most stunning tribute to her life came from the woman who portrayed her so profoundly in the 1993 film about Ms. Turner’s life. Angela Bassett simply asked:

“How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world?” 

When it came to overcoming adversity, Ms. Turner was simply the best.

This article appeared in the May 25, 2023 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 05/25 edition
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