By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.,
Anna Mae Bullock was born in Nutbush, Haywood County, TN in 1939 to Floyd Richard Bullock and Zelma Priscilla. Her father was a Baptist pastor and sharecropper overseer. Her mother was a Cherokee and Navajo farmer.
Bullock was raised by her grandmother following the divorce of her parents. When her grandmother died, the sixteen-year-old moved to St. Louis, MO and lived with her mother. When she was 17, she met Ike Wister Turner, American musician, bandleader, songwriter, record producer and talent scout. The singer was the lead vocalist to what became The Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Ike changed Bullock’s name to Tina Turner when the song, A Fool in Love, was released on Sue Records in 1960 and became an instant hit.
The Turners cohabited for a while, but married in 1962. The couple divorced in 1978.
During the 60s Tina Turner rose to stardom, but according to her, after 16 years of abuse, she realized that her marriage to her spouse did not define her. She reminisced on his abuse that resulted in psychological damage, public humiliation, a broken jaw, broken ribs, choking, sexual assault, and hospitalization. She tried to commit suicide with an overdose of Valium.
The years rolled by with the crowd pleaser, wife and mother of four sons (her and Raymond Craig’s son, Craig, born prior to her relationship with Ike, Ronald Renelle, her and Ike’s son, Michael, and Ike Jr., fathered by Ike from a previous relationship). Consequently, she fled from Ike Turner with only 36 cents and a credit card in her pocket.
Tina Turner longed for “strength and knowledge to have to go forward past this time in my life.” In what prolific novelist Alice Walker would call her “womaness” and perseverance, the artist fought to keep her professional name (Tina Turner) and spoke about the complexities of her marriage to Ike Turner as she persisted in her pursuit of song, music, dance and acting.
“I had the most wonderful times when my solo career took flight. I could literally count my blessings – and I did – following the Private Dancer album: touring with the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Lionel Ritchie and Bryan Adams; making a Mad Max movie with Mel Gibson; the Grammys; recording a duet with David Bowie – I enjoyed artistic freedom and commercial success,” said the creative genius in her book, Tina Turner: My Love Story.
Tina Turner and Erwin Bach (a former music executive with EMI) met at an airport in 1985 when Erwin Bach was 30 years old and Tina Turner was 46. Despite their 16-year-age difference, their attraction propelled their relationship to the dating stage. Tina Turner moved to Switzerland in the Zurich suburb of Kuesnacht with Erwin Bach when she was 57, and he was 40. In 2013 Tina Turner relinquished her American citizenship, and the couple married.
Within her memoir, the super star disclosed that she had endured years of life-threatening illnesses. Three years after the couple married, the electrifying artist suffered a stroke. She was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2016. Sometime afterwards, she experienced kidney failure. Then in April 2017 Erwin Bach donated one of his kidneys to his spouse.
In her book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, Tina Turner mentioned that Erwin Bach taught her how to love without losing her identity. She noted that in their marital dyad they made allowances for each other to be free with their own space for individuality. Note her comment: “Erwin, who is a force of nature in his own right, has never been the least bit intimidated by my career, my talents or my fame. He shows me that true love does not require the dimming of my light so that he can shine. On the contrary, we are the light of each other’s lives, and we want to shine as bright as we can, together.”
Tina Turner sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 12 Grammys, was voted along with Ike Turner into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 (and on her own in 2021). Also, she was honored at the Kennedy’s Center in 2005, with Beyonce’ and Oprah Winfrey among those who praised her.
While the super star expressed deep gratitude for the popularity of her recordings on the American scene, she held a deep sense of loyalty to her foreign fans. In an interview in 1997 with Larry King, Tina Turner quipped, “Basically, Europe has been more supportive of my success than America…hugely more.” Tina Turner’s career was revived abroad, then reimported triumphantly to the States.
Tina Turner sold her music rights, along with the rights to her image, name and likeness (a transaction of approximately $50 million) to the publishing company BMG in October 2021.
Hers was a stage presence that could not be beat. The peps in her steps and her soothing voice mesmerized minds over the world. She knew how to transform from abusive knocks to powerful strokes of love onstage and command attention that moved sellout crowds. Like Cleopatra, she knew the vicissitudes of love, violence, exile and celebrity. She survived dethronements to maintain her power. The feminist heroine said during an interview with CNN’s Larry King in 1997: “If I had not given my story to the world, then maybe my life would not be as it is.”
Tina Turner rocked the world five decades. She spent the last years of her life with her husband, Erwin Bach, in a relationship that spanned 37 years. They cohabited for 27 years, and their marriage of 10 years persevered until Tina Turner went to sleep from a long illness on May 24, 2023, at their home in Kusnacht, Switzerland.
On dying, Tina Turner – a person of Buddhism – commented: “I’m not excited to die; but I don’t regret it when it’s time for me. I’ve done what I came here to do. Now is [time for] pleasure.”