The Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, recording legend, icon of empowerment. No matter how one refers to Tina Turner, her passing constitutes a seismic loss that marks the end of a shining cultural legacy which leaves in its wake an industry-shaping career. Throughout her eight GRAMMY wins and 25 nominations, Turner’s vast and generation-spanning musical output proved equally entertaining and inspirational.
The icon died on May 24 at her home near Zurich, Switzerland. She was 83.
"Tina Turner broke barriers for women on and off the stage throughout her incredible career," said Harvey Mason jr, CEO of The Recording Academy, of Turner who received GRAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 and is a three-time inductee to the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. "She amazed audiences worldwide with her electrifying performances, including on our GRAMMY stage in 1985 and 2008, and was an undeniable rockstar who paved the way for so many with her signature style and powerful vocals. She will be greatly missed by all the people she touched around the globe."
It’s a sentiment shared by the music industry, and world, at large. "She was truly an enormously talented performer and singer,"Mick Jaggerwrote on social media. "She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her." On her website, Beyoncé — who performed with Turner at the 50th GRAMMY Awards — paid tribute to her "beloved Queen," writing, "I love you endlessly. I’m so grateful for your inspiration and all the ways you paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion."Elton John put it simply: "We have lost one of the world's most exciting and electric performers," he wrote. "She was untouchable."
Turner’s untouchable talent famously embodied two phases. First, her tumultuous collaboration with husband Ike Turner, during which they performed as a duo and yielded hits including the oft-covered "Proud Mary." The instantly-recognizable song earned the couple a GRAMMY Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Group in 1972 and was inducted in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2003. In her triumphant second act, Turner broke away from the partnership. She reinvented herself as a solo performer, improbably transitioning from a '60s and '70s-era rocker to arena pop star in the 1980s.
For her efforts, the singer swept the major categories at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards, winning Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "What’s Love Got To Do With It." She also took home the golden gramophone for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "Better Be Good To Me."
One of her most indelible hits, Turner utilized "What's Love Got To Do With It" as a call to action, becoming brutally honest about her abusive relationship with her ex-husband along the way. Turner later recalled toRolling Stone that when she left Ike in July 1976, "I had nothing. I didn’t even know how to get money. I had a girl working for me who had worked for Ike, because she knew about ways of getting money. I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff." She later devised what’s considered one of the greatest comebacks in music history.
First offered to Donna Summer — who sat on the track before ultimately passing — songwriter Terry Britten later revealed that she thought "What’s Love Got to Do With It" was "awful." Turner didn't like the song either, but recorded it following encouragement from her manager, Roger Davis.
"I said, 'If it doesn't work out, we won't use it. So let's give it a go,'" Britten recalled in her 2021 documentary, Tina. It wasn’t until Turner laid down her vocal track that the song was elevated from pop confection into a showcase for the vocal powerhouse. "They weren't used to a strong voice standing on top of music," Turner said in the documentary. "But I converted it and made it my own."
Turner’s deft musical translation is evident throughout her eclectic discography, from the blues-inflicted rock she performed as Ike & Tina Turner, to pop anthems like 1989’s "The Best" (which became a trademark and, naturally, the title of a popular greatest hits album). In 1962, she was nominated for her first GRAMMY Award for Best Rock and Roll Recording for "It’s Gonna Work Out Fine," her and Ike’s hit from the previous year which was offered to them after songwriter Rose Marie McCoy saw their energetic stage show at the Apollo.
It was an auspicious early hit for Turner, who would become a staple of the category for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. Decades later, she earned back-to-back wins in the category for "One of the Living" and "Back Where We Started" in 1986 and 1987, a nomination for "Better Be Good To Me" in ‘88, and took home the golden gramophone in ‘89 for Tina Live in Europe, among many others.
"My songs are a little bit of everybody’s lives who are watching me," said Turner to Rolling Stonein the midst of her hot streak in 1986. "You gotta sing what they can relate to. And there are some raunchy people out there. The world is not perfect. And all of that is in my performance; I play with it."
Born Anna Mae Bullock, Turner’s journey to musical dynamo began on the farmlands of Tennessee where she discovered early on her passion for artistic expression. "As a girl, every chance I got, I’d go to our local movie theater and memorize scenes so I could reenact them," she recalled in 2021 the Harvard Business Review. "Although I did have a bit of singing training in high school and even learned some opera, my voice and dance abilities have mostly come naturally to me."
That vocal prowess and inimitable energy as a performer was on full display throughout her life behind the microphone, one of the most memorable examples being "River Deep-Mountain High." Inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1999, her duet with Ike was produced by Phil Spector who Turner said had him cut her vocals ad nauseam to spectacular results. "I must have sung that 500,000 times," she told Rolling Stone after the publication ranked the track No. 33 of their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "I was drenched with sweat. I had to take my shirt off and stand there in my bra to sing."
Upon her death, the New York Times called her "a magnetic singer with explosive power." That power was visible on and off the stage, both in her artistry and ability to soldier on in the face of the numerous obstacles. In a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Turner explained, "There's an expression, 'You'll never get out of this world alive.' It's true. We won't. Go forward. Do your best with your makeup, hair, and clothes."
In that same interview, Turner also mused about her legacy, touching on the inspiration she doled out by being her authentic self. "My wish is to give the kind of truth to people that will help them change their minds. When that happens, I'll be the best that I can be."
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