Turner, Ike (1931—) and Tina (1938—)

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Turner, Ike (1931—) and Tina (1938—)

Formed in 1959 in St. Louis, Missouri, the partnership of Mississippi rhythm-and-blues musician Ike Turner and a young singer from Nutbush, Tennessee, named Annie Mae Bullock would result in one of popular music's most combustible sounds. Known for their impressive live performances, Ike and Tina Turner were an immediate crossover sensation who eventually released some 29 albums on various labels. As significant as their contribution was to American black music, their 16-year union as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue also left an indelible impression upon rock and pop music the world over. Supported by a full R&B orchestra and choreographed backup singers, Ike was bandleader, arranger, and producer for the duo. With a distinctive on-stage style, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue created a whirlwind of sensation and emotion that inspired audiences and performers alike. Compatible with R&B, straight blues, Motown soul, and hard-core rock and roll, Ike and Tina Turner shared bills with many top performers including the Rolling Stones. While Ike was the competent instrumentalist and songwriter, it was Tina who created for herself an enduring place within popular culture. As both a woman and a performer of strength, grace, and spirit, Tina overcame poverty, self-doubt, and abuse in order to succeed personally and professionally.

Starting out as a piano player, Ike Turner made history early on in 1951 when he played on the Sun Studios session that produced one of the first rock and roll records ever recorded, Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88." Picking up the guitar shortly thereafter, Turner became a busy session player who worked with blues greats Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, and Otis Rush. It was at this time that he developed his distinctive stinging guitar style.

His own band, Ike Turner's Rhythm Kings, was the toast of East St. Louis when Annie Mae Bullock (Tina), the daughter of sharecroppers, met Ike Turner for the first time. Tina joined Turner's touring band as a backup vocalist in 1956, when she was 18. By 1958 she was the star of the show. It was her lovely growl and wild, gospel accents that set her apart from other singers at the time. The high-energy performer filled the stage with her powerful presence and made every lyric of a song come to life. As sexual as she was talented, Tina was not simply a soul singer or an R&B singer: she was something new and different, and this captured the attention of both white and black audiences.

As Ike and Tina Turner, they recorded their first single in 1959 for Sue Records, "A Fool in Love." By 1960 this side was a No. 2 hit on the R&B charts. Following up with "I Idolize You," "It's Gonna Work Out Fine," and "Poor Fool," the Ike & Tina Turner Revue had five Top 10 hits on the R&B charts in less than 3 years. Their first album, The Soul of Ike and Tina Turner was released in 1964 on Sue. Working for top labels such as Warner Brothers, Liberty Records, London, Hallmark, Valiant, Sunset and United Artists, Ike and Tina released at least one project every year until their final album, Nutbush City Limits, was recorded in 1973. Their most successful project, in 1970, was Workin' Together. Released on Liberty, this recording included Tina's version of "Proud Mary." Another highlight of their years together was working with producer Phil Spector, whose "Wall of Sound" production style dominated American pop music during the 1960s. This big sound complimented Tina's vocal prowess dramatically as is evidenced on River Deep and Mountain High, released in 1966.

While Ike and Tina's stage union produced spectacular results and Tina had carved a name for herself as one of the premier women of rock and pop, their personal life together was hardly satisfactory. Ike Turner was a taskmaster who insisted upon total control in everything, including his marriage. Using fear and her own youthful inexperience against her, Ike finally married Tina in Mexico. After years of mistreatment and abuse, Tina left Ike in 1975, eventually divorcing him and rebuilding her career as a solo artist. In 1984, at the age of 45, she was once more an international sensation, making the charts again with her album Private Dancer. In 1985 she had a starring role in the popular Mel Gibson film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, for which she also recorded the hit single "We Don't Need Another Hero." The 1993 film What's Love Got to Do With It? chronicled Tina's rocky career and starred Angela Bassett along with Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner. Ike spent the 1980s battling drugs and legal problems. In 1991 Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and EMI America released Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner, a 23-track collection detailing their career from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s.

—Jana Pendragon

Further Reading:

Ivory, Steven. Tina. New York, Putnam, 1985.

Mills, Bart. Tina. New York, Warner Books, 1985.

Turner, Tina, with Kurt Loder. I, Tina: My Life Story. New York, Avon, 1986.

Wynn, Ron. Tina: The Tina Turner Story. New York, Macmillan, 1985.

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Turner, Ike (1931—) and Tina (1938—)

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