This weekend, after having watched the powerful and emotionally heart-rending new Tina Turner documentary on HBO, I received a phone call from a childhood friend in Detroit reminding me of our personal connection to an early Ike and Tina Turner Review performance. My friend, Patricia and I first met in 1954 in the 5th grade and have remained close friends and kept in touch all these years. Her excited phone call was to remind me of an occasion in the summer of 1960 when we were both 16 and somehow managed to get seated in the audience of a local teen music radio show. When the only R & B act approached the microphone and began performing, my friend and I immediately loved the song, “A Fool In Love”, but something about the female soloist seized our attention. This was early Tina Turner. And moments prior to stepping up to the microphone to sing, she just looked so sad and lost. She appeared somewhat hesitant at first. She was pregnant, and her front teeth were missing. But when she opened her mouth and began singing: “Oh, there’s something on my mind. Won’t somebody please. Please tell me what’s wrong…” her entire demeanor changed, and she was in control of the song and its meaning, the band, the back-up singers, as well as the entirety of her surroundings.
FAST-FORWARD: To 1983:
23 years later, I was living in Southern California and working in the West Hollywood area. One afternoon, returning from lunch, I was driving back to the office down Sunset Boulevard. At the intersection of Sunset and Highland, I stopped for a red light and glanced over to my left. I noticed a gleaming luxury car in the next lane waiting to make a left turn. And there, in the passenger seat was a Black woman of such stunning presence and beauty I could not look away. Her demeanor was regal, her make-up was flawless, and her voluminous golden lion’s mane tresses perfectly enhanced the off-white frock she was wearing. Then she glanced over at me and acknowledged my gaze with a beautiful and friendly smile that I have never forgotten. Her beaming, luminous smile was enhanced by perfect white porcelain veneers, and she displayed them with seemingly genuine pride. Gradually, I sensed something vaguely familiar about her. Something about her eyes. And seconds later I was certain. Returning her generous smile, I whispered to myself: ‘Oh my God! That’s Tina Turner!’
Amazingly, over the years, the Tina Turner my friend and I saw in Detroit so many years ago had been on a tremendous odyssey of self-discovery. Transforming herself from Ike Turner’s meal ticket and punching bag into her own self-identifying fiercely independent and talented persona. All while launching and staging the most successful comeback in music history. I was really happy for her, and I felt proud of her. As proud as though she were my sister.
In this new documentary, Tina, the behind the scene details of her early life are disturbing to watch, but her strong belief in herself and her will to survive are tremendously inspiring. Even when she was simply known as Anna Mae Bullock from rural Nutbush, Tennessee, deep down inside she knew who she really was. She simply had to learn to summon the strength and courage to claim and reveal her true self. And miraculously, as she demonstrated in later years every time she burst onto stages all over the world, Tina Turner is a woman who knew who she was all along. She held on to her true self-worth and identity for decades, and she did so with dignity. Having now reached the age of 81, retirement and a lovely life in Switzerland with her devoted husband appear to suit her just fine, and truth be told, she has earned and deserves every bit of it.