Tina Turner: The Little Girl from Nutbush
I finally visited the State of Tennessee after 41 years on this earth. Through my travels, I’m sure I’ve been to at least 40 of the 50 States in America. Whenever I visit new cities and areas, I make an effort to stop at local records stores to explore music. Yes, even several occasions when I vacationed on South Beach in Miami, I attempted to discover new music as beautiful women walked by. I mean, I can do more than one thing at a time, but I digress. I also enjoy talking to people who live in these environments because you get first hand perspectives on the music and sounds that shaped communities. This is the life of a music lover. I never get tired of learning about music, listening to music and studying artist that put a dent into our consciousness. Ok, back to my visit to Tennessee, Nashville in particular. A few months ago I spent 5 days in Nashville, which is often called the Music Capital of America. During the day, I would visit several museums (Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum and Musicians Hall of Fame to name a few) and bars to listen to bands play. While reading articles at a bookstore one morning, I noticed that a little girl from a city far west called Nutbush would become a musical legend and icon. Her name was Lil Ann, who of course would later be called Anna Mae and Tina Turner.
Honestly, I never heard of Nutbush, Tennessee. After doing some research, I learned that Nutbush was not a city. Nutbush is basically unincorporated rural land in Haywood County. To be frank with you, Nutbush is a small country area that wasn’t always kind to Black People. We know American History can be complicated, so allow me to provide a brief description of where Tina Turner was born. Nutbush in the 19th Century was known for its Cotton Plantations. European-American settlers (thieves) transported (forced) hundreds of Africans to this area for the purpose of building and sustaining the Cotton Industry. The African American Slaves built the Churches and upscale homes, still used to this day. The settlers were from Virginia and North Carolina who initially traveled from England. Churches still used as a place of worship in 2017 were built on the backs of Slaves, forced into labor with no laws protecting their rights. This is the town Lil Ann was from, which continued to show mistreatment, segregation, Jim Crow and inequality for African Americans for generations to come. You know, typical American History that's ugly but often dressed in pretty attire for the masses. In 1973, Tina Turner released the song “Nutbush City Limits”, describing her childhood and life in her hometown. I have to admit, the song was funky. I like it a lot! This was also the final time she would collaborate with her then husband (separated), Ike Turner.
Tina Turner is a Singer, Actor, Producer, Author, Dancer and known as one of the greatest performers on stage in American Music History. Beyonce’ is often called this generation Tina Turner due to her hard working routines and energetic shows. Before Lil Ann became Tina Turner, there was a very complicated childhood leading up the “Legend” that we all know and love. To be black and being born in 1939 (Anna Mae Bullock) in the United States was a challenge within itself. You are basically born in the heart of the Jim Crow Era, which started around Reconstruction up until 1965. If we’re being 100% honest, Jim Crow Laws went on much longer but that’s for another day and time. Anyway, if you weren’t in Harlem, Detroit, Durham, or Tulsa as an African American, the challenges were even more intense. Even in these areas, the struggle and conditions were criminal. Of course we know what happened to Black Wall Street in the Greenwood Community in Tulsa. Lil Ann didn’t see prosperous Blacks in Nutbush on a large scale. As a child, Lil Ann would sing at Nutbush Spring Hill Baptist Church. You see, Church and Religion for Blacks in The South is influential in our overall experience as Americans. If you research most of our great singers, you'll find a spiritual element to their sound. This reality has layers. Slaves were forced to build churches and encouraged (often forced) to attend services. It took an entire generation for Blacks to start establishing their own churches without white people being present. There is a deep history behind this you can research at your leisure. Being spiritual is important to black culture and Lil Ann had the voice and energy from day one.
As a child, Lil Ann experienced pain that would foreshadow events that she would endure as an adult. At one point in her childhood, Lil Ann and her sister moved with their grandparents. This was after their mother abruptly ran away due to constant physical abuse from their father. During this time, the family had moved from Nutbush to Knoxville for work. Lil Ann’s parents worked at a defense facility during World War II. The sisters were often separated because of parental instabilities. The family eventually moved back to Nutbush together until their father decided to marry another woman and move to Detroit. By 13, Lil Ann had experienced her mother being abused, separation from her sister, time spent with very strict grandparents, and father leaving with another woman. You would later hear a lot of pain, experience and triumph in her music.
By the age of 16, the energetic Anna Mae was a Cheerleader, Basketball Player and Singer at Church. It was often cited that her athleticism and focus would eventually make her a great performer. At this time, Anna Mae moved to St. Louis to reunite with her Mother and Sister after her Grandmother died. Her mother and sister had moved a few years prior. Anna Mae was working as a Nurses Aid after graduating from High School with ambitions of becoming a Nurse. Man, just imagine if her initial dream would have come true. During her late teens, Anna Mae and her older sister Ruby started visiting Nightclubs in St. Louis and the East St. Louis areas. One night at Club Manhattan, located in East St. Louis, Anna Mae saw Ike Turner and his band Kings of Rhythm for the first time. History tells it that Anna Mae was mesmerized by the sound of this band and the music of Ike Turner. Anna Mae was eventually invited on stage by the band’s drummer. That is the legend behind Anna Mae eventually becoming the first female singer Ike had ever worked with on stage.
“A Fool In Love”, written in 1960 by Ike Turner became the song that would bind Ike and Tina together forever. It's documented that this track was written for Kings of Rhythm vocalist Art Lassiter. When Lassiter didn’t show up for the recording, Little Anne was allowed to sing lead. Before this, Little Ann singed a few times as a back-up from 1958 to 1960. During this time, Anna Mae became a young mother at 18 years of age with her first son Raymond. The father was Raymond Hill, the Saxophonist from Kings of Rhythm. At 20 years of age, Anna Mae and Ike had a son, Ronnie. These were the only children she gave birth to. As for The song “A Fool In Love”, it eventually received some pretty good airplay in the St. Louis area leading up to the group working with Sue Records. This is where some early signs of Ike Turner’s control started. The record label wanted Anna Mae to be the face of the group but Ike didn't want her to be the STAR. Ike wanted to control the destiny of his group so he named Anna Mae “Tina”. Ike Turner named Anna Mae “Tina” in the event that she left the group one day, he could just replace her with another vocalist that would still go by stage name, Tina. Of course we know that 50 years later, there would only be one Tina, and that’s Tina Turner.
Tina Turner would see success over the next decade with Ike but not without challenges. The group would sign with 10 different record labels. I mean, Ike Turner is Ike Turner. Ike liked things his way and there was no way around it. This would also be the case in their romance and marriage that eventually happened. As for the music, the group had several years of hits along with Grammy Nominations and critical acclaim. During a 1965 performance in Los Angeles, Phil Spector was captivated by what he saw and extended his hand to Ike Turner. If you don’t know who Phil Spector is, please Google him for perspective. This meeting led to an eventual tour in which Ike and Tina would open for The Rolling Stones. The duo toured Europe, Australia and other countries over the next few years and into the early 70’s. With a strained relationship that saw abuse, drugs, deception and infidelity, Tina and Ike’s final work together was “Nutbush City Limits”, released in 1973. Tina had experienced the same pain and controlling torture her mothered experience during her childhood. Tina had experienced pain before. Tina had experienced what Blacks in her hometown experienced as a result of systematic racism. Tina knew what a broken family looked and felt like. At one point, Tina raised her two kids and two kids Ike had from a previous marriage. Tina was forced to be a fighter. Tina was forced to be a provider as well, whenever Ike's habits became expensive.
Over the next decade, Tina continued to record, act in movies and engaged in tours around the world. The divorce from Ike Turner was final in 1978 and to me; this is when Tina really began to shine. Yes, Ike pretty much taught Tina everything about music but it was at a price that put her life in jeopardy more than once. Ike Turner was abusive, just like her father before him. The sad reality is Ike Turner was a musical genius who happened to have a lot of personal demons. Tina was able to survive and share her gift with the world. As we fast forward to Private Dancer (recorded in London) and its 1984 release, Tina Turner was finally an A-List musician. There is a song on there you may have heard of before called “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Private Dancer was Tina’s Magnum Opus selling over 5 million copies, also receiving critical and commercial acclaim. After 26 years of hard work, hard ache, loss, pain and the energy to survive it all, Tina was a true Celebrity in every sense of the word.
As of 2017, Tina Turner is married and lives in Switzerland. Tina has been practicing Buddhism for decades and is actually a citizen of Switzerland by law. In 2013 after an intense process, Tina received all of her documentation and also gave up her American Citizenship. Legends never retire and you might catch Tina on stage somewhere on this globe, even at 77 years of age. Tina has inspired women performers for the past 50 years and performers in general. Tina has a crossover audience unlike most African American artist. I mean, who else could have been in Mad Max and do the track “We Don’t Need Another Hero” like Tina Turner. I watched the video this morning and felt like watching the TV Show Vikings afterwards. There is only one Tina Turner. There will only be one Tina Turner forever. You can’t clone this type of performer. You can’t mimic her voice or style. I’m glad Lil Ann never became the Nurse she once dreamed of becoming…