Remembering rock and roll icon Tina Turner who has died at age 83
Thursday, May 25, 2023
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NPR's Michel Martin talks to Maureen Mahon, professor and chair of New York University's music department, about Turner's legacy. Her raspy voice and electric stage moves influenced many performers.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The queen of rock 'n' roll with a voice and stage presence all her own - who else could we be talking about but Tina Turner?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PROUD MARY")
TINA TURNER: (Singing) Proud Mary keep on burning, burning, rolling, rolling. All right. Rolling on the river.
MARTIN: Turner won eight Grammys and was one of the very few to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as part of a duo with then-husband Ike Turner and again as a solo artist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT")
TURNER: (Singing) What's love got to do - got to do with it? What's love but a secondhand emotion?
MARTIN: Tina Turner died yesterday at her home in Switzerland at the age of 83. Maureen Mahon is a professor and chair of the New York University Music Department, and she's with us now to offer some remembrances of this incredible talent. Good morning. Thanks for joining us.
MAUREEN MAHON: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So let's start at the beginning. She was Anna Mae Bullock. She was growing up in Tennessee. She had a pretty rough childhood, moved to St. Louis when she was 16, met the bandleader Ike Turner. Obviously, something about her made her stand out even as a teenager. What was it?
MAHON: It was the voice. She had an extraordinary voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER DEEP - MOUNTAIN HIGH")
TURNER: (Singing) When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll, the only doll I've ever owned.
MARTIN: Ike Turner was famously abusive, I mean, physically, emotionally. Despite that, they produced these incredible hits, you know, "River Deep - Mountain High." But she did leave him. And remember, this was at a time when people really didn't talk openly about things like that. How did she make her escape?
MAHON: She - it took her a while to do it. And she started singing with Ike Turner when she was still in high school. And they had hits together in the early 1960s. They'd gotten married even though they hadn't started out as romantic partners, just recording and performing partners. But by the middle of the 1970s, she decided that she just had to leave. And so she did. And she left really everything behind from that relationship with the exception of her name. So she didn't fight for alimony. She didn't fight for, you know, the rights to the music. She just wanted to keep her name because she knew that was the thing that people would remember and recognize and value.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRIVATE DANCER")
TURNER: (Singing) I'm your private dancer, a dancer for money. I'll do what you want me to do.
MARTIN: And then that huge comeback in 1984 with the album "Private Dancer" - four songs hit the top 10 in the U.S., won four Grammys. How did she do it?
MAHON: She was fortunate to cross paths with a manager named Roger Davies. And he was someone who had grown up in Australia as a fan of Ike & Tina Turner. He knew her music, and he recognized her incredible talent. And he also understood that the recording industry at that time was going to have some challenges accepting a solo Black woman artist over the age of 25 doing the music that she was doing. But they really just doubled down on the rock 'n' roll image. She stopped wearing the sort of flashy outfits that she had been wearing as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and she developed this really cool, tough rock 'n' roll look. And they...
MAHON: ...Shifted her sound to fit into the pop sound of the early 1980s. And the fact that she was such an extraordinary singer and performer allowed her to really connect with audiences. She managed to get a recording contract, and they put out that album.
MARTIN: OK, last question - she retired from touring almost 15 years ago. A whole generation hasn't gotten to see her live, really. What should they know? How should she be remembered? As briefly as you can.
MAHON: I think as a Black woman who refused to stay in the box that people wanted to put her in and as a phenomenal vocalist and entertainer and, of course, as the queen of rock 'n' roll.
MARTIN: And they can learn more about her in your book, "Black Diamond Queens: African American Women And Rock And Roll." That's Maureen Mahon. Professor Mahon, thanks so much for remembering her life with us.
MAHON: Thanks so much for having me, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST")
TURNER: (Singing) You're simply the best, better than... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.View this story on npr.org