You would be hard-pressed to find a more iconic name in music than Tina Turner, the ‘70s and ‘80s legend often hailed as the “Queen of Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
It takes a once-in-a-lifetime sort of woman with passion, raw talent and no small amount of chutzpah, and Turner has all of these and more in spades. Now, Turner’s nomination for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, along with the newly released HBO documentary, “Tina,” has sparked renewed conversation in the music industry regarding just what it is about Turner that makes her “Simply the Best.”
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee in 1939, Turner’s family moved to St. Louis in the 1950s, when she was in her teens. It is here where Turner is enshrined in the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The Walk of Fame, located in the Delmar Loop in University City, showcases St. Louisans who have made major national contributions to America’s cultural heritage.
“[She’s] the most dynamic live female performer of all time, and the hardest working woman in show business,” said businessman Joe Edwards, founder of the St. Louis Walk of Fame and owner of Blueberry Hill, one of the city’s famed musical venues.
Edwards talks of Turner as if she were superhuman, as if one woman could not possibly have that magnificence of a voice, combined with that captivation of a performer, but that is what Turner’s aura was. Turner is, to use her own words, “better than all the rest.”
Turner’s singing career began in St. Louis in the late 1950s, and in the early 1960s, she became part of the R&B duo, Ike and Tina Turner. Following a tumultuous, 16-year marriage, the couple divorced in 1978. On her own, Turner embarked on one of the most successful and iconic solo careers of all time. Her drive skyrocketed her to become the “it” girl of the 1980s rock music scene – the Beyonce of the ‘80s, if you will.
Edwards recounts the golden opportunity he had to see Turner in concert in St. Louis.
“First of all, [there is] the anticipation,” he said. “You have the tickets a few weeks ahead of time. You’re really looking forward to it. You can really start getting excited and then it gets closer and closer. Then finally, it’s the concert day and you’re revved up already. When she comes onstage, you can’t take your eyes off her. You just watch her the entire concert. And listen, obviously.”
Edwards believes that Turner’s upbringing in St. Louis, a city so rich in musical culture, influenced her music.
“St. Louis is a magical city when it comes to music because not only was the whole East to West migration going on, but the South to North migration, as well,” Edwards said. “People of all backgrounds, of all cultures and of all races ended up in St. Louis at some time or another and were influenced by other people. Some cities like New Orleans are known for jazz and Chicago for blues, but St. Louis is known for all of them. We don’t have a single musical identity.”
Jazz singer and songwriter Chris Bennett, a decade Turner’s junior, has had dozens of years of experience in the music industry and collaborated with some truly iconic names, such as The Manhattan Transfer, Donna Summer and most notably, Turner. Bennett penned a song off Turner’s fourth studio album, “Love Explosion,” released in 1979.
“It’s a horrible title, it’s called ‘You’ve Got What I’m Gonna Get,’ but it’s not a bad track,” Bennett said jokingly. “My collaborator wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music, but [the song] sounds like you’re gonna catch some disease. It’s like the COVID-19 theme song: ‘You’ve Got What I’m Gonna Get.’”
Bennett has nothing but effusive praise for Turner, an artist and performer she grew up and finds inspiration in. Bennett says it was Turner’s natural talent that cemented her status as the “Queen of Rock.”
“She could sing anything. She’s got that raucous, edgy rock voice,” Bennett said. “She’s got that rebel thing, but I’m not sure if that’s really who she was, she was a normal housewife with kids who just happened to have this amazing talent, and she’s just a fireball on stage if you look at some of her old videos. She’s dancing in those four-inch heels and shaking everything she’s got.”
Bennett also notes that Turner’s troubled and violent marriage set her on a path of independence and strength.
“Tina was struggling then. She had a very abusive relationship with Ike,” Bennett said. “He was a brilliant musician, but a womanizer and a wife abuser. She literally escaped one night with five bucks and they let her stay at the Holiday Inn because they recognized her. She had to completely start over and invent herself again. She was having to clean houses there for a while to keep a roof over her head. Finally she got – well, supposedly she didn’t like that song, it’s kind of a weird song – ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It.’ It just exploded as a big hit and the other one was ‘Private Dancer.’ Her story just shows to never give up.”
Tina Turner is among the 2021 nominees for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The nominee list also includes Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Devo, Foo Fighters, The Go-Go’s, Iron Maiden, JAY-Z, Chaka Khan, Carole King, Fela Kuti, LL Cool J, New York Dolls, Rage Against the Machine, Todd Rundgren and Dionne Warwick. The top five artists, as voted by fans (voting concluded on April 30) and combined with other industry ballots, will be announced sometime in May and will be honored during a ceremony in October.