Wild rhythm and blues star from the late 1950s until the mid-1970s, within the duo – and infernal couple – Ike

Multiple testimonies pay homage to the one who was nicknamed “the Queen of Rock’n’roll”, whose electrifying stage play had enraged her first disciples. Among them, Mick Jagger, who recognized that his gestures owed as much to James Brown as to the one with whom he had sung a burning duet (State of Shock / It’s Only Rock’n’Roll), during Live Aid, July 13 1985.

Like many children in the rural South of the United States, Anna Mae Bullock finds her voice by taking part in the choir of her church, the Spring Hill Baptist Church in Nutbush, the hamlet of Tennessee where she grew up since her birth on the 26th November 1939. The daughter of a sharecropper, she was brought up on the banks of the Mississippi, in a countryside devoted to cotton fields.

If his trunk was trained in the gospels of the Baptist service, his ear was also introduced to boogie-woogie, country and blues, in particular that of B.B. King, broadcast on the radio. The little girl dreams and travels in front of the images of Hollywood stars, but there is nothing glamorous about her reality.

“Fallen into a trance”

A victim of domestic violence, her mother fled the home, abandoning her three daughters. Her youngest, Anna, was only 11 years old. Two years later, it was the father’s turn to move to Detroit, Michigan, leaving his offspring in the care of the maternal grandmother in Brownsville, Tennessee. When she died, Anna, who had been a domestic worker in a white family, but was also a basketball player and cheerleader in her school team, left to join her mother in East Saint Louis (Illinois).

From the age of 16, she attended, with her older sister, Alline, passionate about music (she wrote several songs, for Ike

Originally from Clarksdale (Mississippi), pianist and guitarist Ike Turner is, indeed, an exceptional musician, whose talent was forged by accompanying big names in the blues such as Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin’Wolf, Otis Rush or B.B. King. Also an artistic producer, arranger and talent scout, he asserted himself in the world of rhythm and blues, while composing, in 1951, a title, the fiery Rocket 88, considered by many to be one of the birth certificates of the rock ‘n’ roll. This success, contractually attributed to his singer-saxophonist, Jackie Brenston, like other recordings for which the artist will consider himself cheated, will sharpen his mistrust to paranoia.

The sharp playing of the guitarist, of an eclecticism also anticipating the groove of funk, captivates Anna Mae Bullock to such an extent that she begs him to go on stage with him. After having suffered several refusals, she wins her case one day when the drummer of the group (and boyfriend of her sister Alline) finally hands her the microphone during an intermission. Impressed, Ike Turner offers the teenager to join the other singers of the Kings of Rhythm.

« Little Ann »

The leader teaches his new recruit to control the power of his voice and to work on his stage performance. “He was his hero, like a big brother,” one of the band’s backing vocals later testified, referring to the start of their collaboration. The one Ike Turner still nicknamed “Little Ann” recorded, in 1958, Boxtop, her first single with the group. She then maintains a relationship with the drummer, Raymond Hill, with whom she has a son, whom she raises as a single mother when the father, sick, leaves to live in Mississippi.

Then began her romantic relationship with Ike Turner, who soon married her and renamed her “Tina” in 1960, a name inspired by a comic book heroine, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The couple’s first success, A Fool in Love (on the Sue Records label, in August 1960), also corresponds to the first violence suffered by the young wife. While pregnant Tina asks her husband not to go on tour, he hits her with a shoe tree. “The torture started and never stopped. But yet I felt sorry for him, “said the singer, explaining, among other things, her submission by her desire not to betray the musician.

Aware of having in his hands a beast of the stage, Ike Turner transforms his group into a war machine. The orchestra is renamed The Ike

A few records stand out – Poor Fool, Tra La La La La, You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had… – but it is above all the Stakhanovite sequence of these provocative concerts that builds the reputation of the couple. No coincidence that an album recorded live – Live! The Ike

Opening for the Rolling Stones

Impressed by the duo, star producer Phil Spector welcomes them to his label, Philles. Above all an admirer of the singer, he manages, for a fee, to convince Ike to let him carry out the recording sessions alone. Pop monument, combining Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” (built from swirls of strings and percussion) and the powerful register of Tina Turner, the single River Deep, Mountain High (June 1966) is an unexplained failure in the States United States, but its success in Europe (number three in the United Kingdom, number one in Spain) and that of the album of the same name open new doors.

Fans of the duo, the Rolling Stones welcomed them in the first part of their British tour, at the end of 1966, before renewing the invitation for their American tour of 1969. The following decade saw them triumph in the mode of recovery, with a version of Sly and the Family Stone’s I Want to Take You Higher, and above all a calorific version of Proud Mary (number four in the United States, in 1971), the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic, which, with a million copies sold, will remain their biggest hit.

The money from these sales allows Ike Turner to launch his own studios, Bolic Sound. Tina took advantage of the productions that followed to write her first songs, including the excellent (and autobiographical) Nutbush City Limits (1973). Her husband produced her solo: the anecdotal Tina Turns the Country On! (1974), then Acid Queen (1975) seeking to exploit the remarkable interpretation of his wife in the cinematographic version of Tommy, the rock opera of the Who.

More than ever the scapegoat of a cocaine-addicted husband, Tina Turner draws strength from her new Buddhist faith. A final bloody argument in a car leading them to a hotel in Dallas (Texas) finally pushes her to flee and end sixteen years of toxic relationships. Almost forty years before the movement

Desert crossing

Before that, divorced, covered in debt, the one who chose to keep the name of Tina Turner crossed the second half of the 1970s by hiding in TV shows or in cabaret shows at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (Nevada), dressed in Bob Mackie’s glam-kitsch suits. The failures of her third and fourth solo albums (Rough, in 1978, and the more disco, Love Explosion, in 1979) seem to confirm that Tina Turner is now a figure of the past.

But what we thought was an irremediable crossing of the desert ended in the early 1980s. In 1979, she met an Australian, Roger Davies, then manager of Olivia Newton-John. Subjugated by the scenic abilities of the just forty-something, this one will help her realize her dream: “To become the first black rock singer to fill stadiums like the Rolling Stones. However, no woman has done it so far, and no one in the business believes in a singer older than her competitors. She changes her image, cuts her hair, goes back from cabaret to rock, facing the mistrust of her record company.

Roger Davies feels that the sounds of a new British wave can help him take off again. Former members of the electropop group The Human League, who left to found Heaven 17, the English Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh offered the American to cover a synthetic version of a Temptations piece, Ball of Confusion, for the album Music of Quality and Distinction for their B.E.F. (British Electronic Foundation). The same then directed her to a cover of Let’s Stay Together (1983), Al Green’s soul classic, for a solo 45 rpm showing that her power as a tigress can be relaxed with majesty, against a soft background of contemporary pop. A great success in Europe, the single launched the dynamics of a triumphant renaissance.

Produced by no less than four artistic directors, the album Private Dancer, released in the spring of 1984, will exploit this FM pop-soul-rock vein, sublimated by a voice at the height of its maturity. Commercial phenomenon of the year, with Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Prince’s Purple Rain, the album collected the Grammys (three) and the hits: Better Be Good to Me, Private Dancer (by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits), I Can’t Stand the Rain (an Ann Peebles cover) and especially What’s Love Go to Do With It, written by Briton Terry Britten and originally intended for the nice pop quartet Bucks Fizz.

Star of the young MTV channel, Tina Turner then unites several generations of listeners who celebrate her during record tours, where the performance beast gives her full measure, all legs out.

The cinema participates in this consecration thanks to its interpretation of the character of Aunty Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and the song of the credits, We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).

Also symbolic, his participation in the recording of the charity hit We Are the World (1985), with the USA For Africa collective, bringing together the biggest stars of the moment, and in the Live Aid concert, in July of the same year, where his very “hot” duet with Mick Jagger makes an impression.

The publication of her autobiography, I, Tina: My Life Story (1986), where the American details the martyrdom suffered with Ike, participates in the “Turnermania”. This world bestseller becoming a film, Tina, in 1993, with Angela Bassett in the role of the singer.

In the Guinness World Records

Albums (Break Every Rule, Foreign Affair, In Your Wildest Dreams, Twenty Four Seven) and hits (Typical Male, The Best, Tearing Us Apart (with Eric Clapton), GoldenEye, written by U2 for a James Bond credits, etc.) succeed until the end of the 1990s. If the lady knows a certain discographic decline, her tours will continue to triumph. A concert at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), even entering the Guinness Book of Records at the time in 1988 for having welcomed 180,000 spectators.

After a first farewell tour in 2000, she finally bowed out on stage in 2008, at the age of 70, to retire to Switzerland, in a sumptuous house on the shores of Lake Zurich, with her second husband, German producer Erwin Bach, met in 1986.

A few rare recordings and reissues make her a little more part of history, such as when, in 2018, a version of What’s Love Got to Do With It remixed by Kygo, made her the first singer to have ranked at least one title in the American top 40 in each of the last seven decades.

A model of resilience, combativeness and longevity, the “Queen of Rock’n’Roll” was weakened by numerous health concerns from the 2010s: heart attack, in 2013; bowel cancer, from 2016; kidney transplant, in 2017… She had also known the dramas of the disappearance of her two sons, Raymond Craig, who committed suicide in 2018, and Ronnie, who died of cancer in 2022.