Tina Turner’s was probably the most famous gas credit card in history. It’s the one she carried with her, age thirty-seven, along with thirty-six cents, when she left Ike. She’d been with him since she was a literal teenager. She’d pretty well been defined by him since 1957, and in 1976, she walked out. She couldn’t take it, or him, anymore. She redefined herself and kept going. All she took in the divorce was the name, which he’d trademarked to make her easy to replace. (We are never covering Ike for Attention Must Be Paid.) She became a powerhouse—one of the most quotable lines in the very quotable The Commitments is, “You’d do it with Tina Turner, and she’s a granny.”
She was born Anna Mae Bullock to a poor, sharecropping family. (Technically, her father was an overseer, but Anna did pick cotton as a child.) Her father was abusive; her mother had wanted to leave him but had gotten pregnant with Anna instead. Anna spent time living with her deeply religious grandparents, with her parents, and with her other grandmother. She worked as a maid and in a hospital. And then one day, she convinced Ike Turner to let her sing.
When he recorded the first demo with her, he only did it because he’d paid for the studio time and the singer didn’t show. He’d planned to erase her voice and just using the backing tracks, but disc jockey Dave Dixon persuaded Ike otherwise. Ike gave her the name Tina Turner—the Tina because it rhymed with Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, apparently—and their joint career skyrocketed. With her very first single, Ike and Tina began to climb the Hot 100. They never made it to number one on the charts, but on the other hand, they performed at Carnegie Hall.
And she survived. She took whatever Ike dished out, and she survived. He was an abusive coke addict. She got away from him. She performed to pay the bills—with a little help from Bob Mackie, among others, who designed her costumes. She toured, and she opened for the Rolling Stones, and when Private Dancer came out, she was a certified superstar. In her own right. She may not have made many movies, but she didn’t have to in order to seal her place.
Oh, and of course, there’s the biopic. What’s Love Got to Do With It is a heck of a film. Angela Bassett may have lost Best Actress to Holly Hunter, but honestly I think it’s the better performance. It’s the gold standard of biopics. And Gods love her, Anna was there for Bassett, actually teaching her how to do Tina Turner-style makeup. She was a superstar and a kind woman, and we’ll always love her for getting free and succeeding.