Dayra Itzela Botzau
Anna Mae and Tina
"A Biographical Essay"
"Anna Mae, child you'd best stop that bellowing and sing along with the choir," the choir director glared at Anna Mae after several aggravated attempts to get her to sing in harmony with the church choir. "If you cannot follow my lead, I'm going to have to scoot you on out of here." These were the unspoken gestures that were being made as I viewed the motion picture, What’s Love Got to Do with It. You could see that Anna Mae did her best but at the age of twelve still found it very difficult not to let the voice inside of her scream out enthusiastically and to let her feet move in the rhythm of the music.
Busnar (1987) stated that Anna's love for music began when she was quite small. He wrote how she was always singing out in the fields, picking cotton, and around the house. Wynn (1985) wrote, "Music became her outlet for personal expression, she not only sang gospel on Sundays but learned blues and country tunes from the radio" (p.24). Who knew that this was the Anna Mae who would in time be named Tina Turner. Anna Mae became a woman of great strength and tenacity with a charm that would show straight through the great gift that God had blessed her with. She had the talent to become a superstar.
Anna Mae Bullock was born on November 26, 1939, to a sharecropping family in Nutbush, Tennessee. She and her family had more than the average tenant farmers in the area. Busnar (1987) stated that at the age of six, Anna was already working alongside her family picking cotton and strawberries. The majority of her weekends and any spare times were spent at her fathers Baptist church (Wynn, 1985). She sang in the choir but was not recognized for her singing ability. Instead, her childhood was filled with wise cracks about her looks. This always made her self conscience of her appearance. No one truly noticed the protégé that appeared before them.
By the age of twelve, Anna's mother had abandoned her to move to St. Louis. By the time she was fourteen, her father moved to Chicago. Her caretaker then became her maternal-grandmother, who died by the time she was sixteen. Although her death was hard, this was Anna Mae's opportunity to leave the small town of Nutbush to move with her mother in St. Louis. How exciting, there was so much more to explore in such a big metropolitan city. Many details are missing from Anna's childhood because she's been quoted as saying, "There were some problems" (Wynn, 1985, p. 24). She just never wanted to elaborate about her childhood.
After her move to the big city, Anna and her sister Eileen took jobs in a hospital and in the evening explored the glamorous night life. Their favorite spot was The Club Manhattan, a prime East St. Louis hotspot. I like the way Wynn (1985) said it, "Anna had just turned seventeen and was ready to enjoy the things Nutbush couldn't offer" (p.27). Anna and Eileen were becoming avid club followers. Anna was especially attracted to one of the lead acts at the club performed by the band leader/musician, Ike Turner. They played rhythm and blues music. She could fantasize and see herself in the same lime light. All she needed was just one chance to get up on stage. Ike had even promised her the opportunity but seemed to have forgotten his promise. Anna never forgot though. She had a confidence about her that carried her right on the stage and once she put the microphone next to her lips she was amazing. She completely mesmerized the crowd as well as Ike (Busnar, 1987).
Anna Mae Bullock soon joined the Kings of Rhythm as one of the back-up vocalist. Ike Turner saw something in Anna and was able to persuade her mother by giving her money. Money always talked to Anna Mae's mother. Within two years, they had recorded a demo called "A Fool in Love" which was a number two R&B hit on Sue Records, by 1960. Many other hits like "Tra, La La, La, La" soon followed. Anna was the star of the group and the groups name then changed to The Ike and Tina Turner Revue. More information can be found on: http://www.history-of-rock.com/ike_and_tina_turner.htm.
Busnar (1987) wrote about an interview with Tina. He quoted her as saying, "At first I only made a little spending money" (p. 17). Tina told People magazine: "Then Ike started buying me a wardrobe. I had rings all over my fingers and bare-backed shoes. There were Buick’s and Cadillac’s. It was all very exciting for a young girl like me." Tina never knew what truly hit her. As a teenager, she had gotten pregnant by the bands saxophone player and leaned harder on the relationship she had with Ike. She had been having a personal and professional relationship with Ike. As Tina Turner expert Wynn (1985) said, "He became a father, mentor, and guardian wrapped in one."
In order to continue the grueling band practices and tours, Tina decided to move in with Ike Turner who was not the baby's father but instead someone she idolized. The motion picture, What's Love Got to Do with It, shows the real Ike as a womanizer and a person who was never committed to one woman. I believe this was a creditable source for him because it also showed the genius behind the organization of the music. Unfortunately, with the good came a lot of bad. Tina even witnessed Ike's first wife’s attempted suicide. This is when he poured on his pity-me-tears on the young vocalist and she professed her loyalty to him and his vision. Wynn (1985) explained, "He had a polished, firm sense of what he wanted his vocalists to interact within that concept” (p. 34).
Tina's marriage to Ike in 1962 only cemented Ike's control over her. Within no time he already had Tina pregnant with her second child. He had the say of Tina's destiny offstage and on. He ran the show (Wynn, 1985). There is no way that he would allow her to voice an opinion on the music or even think of singing something else. Because of this, Tina never got the opportunity to really sing the music she was interested in and showing her true talent. She was very subservient to his needs. If she questioned anything, Ike would beat the hell out of her. At first, she would cover up bruised eyes and busted lips; but as Ike's irrational behavior got more and more out of control he would abuse her in front of others. That's how confident he was that he could get away with his cruel ways.
It didn't seem to matter that Tina was very talented and popular; Ike acted as if it did not bother him but he showed his true face when, Phil Spector, (1960's) had co- written a song called, “River-Deep-Mountain-High” and he only requested Tina's help in recording the piece for him. The record label reads, “Ike and Tina Turner but Ike was never a part of this piece.” Busnar (1987) wrote, “Tina's singing on ‘River-Deep-Mountain-High’ is often cited as one of the all-time performances by a female singer” (p. I9). I was impressed by the same opinions of Bush (2005) and Busnar (1987) making Tina Turner such an outstanding performer during this recording. With this recording at hand, Ike and Tina were becoming very famous even in such places as England. By 1969, they were becoming popular all over the world and they even got to open for the Rolling Stones. By 1971, "Proud Mary" hit number four on the R&B list. Busnar (1987) showed his admiration when he said, "Tina Turner's special mixture of emotional power and toughness has rarely been equaled."
As the motion picture, What’s Love Got to Do with It, depicted, Tina was walking on air when it came to the success she was experiencing with The Revue, but slithering like a snake in the mud when it came to Ike's abusive control over her life and the children's lives. She even attempted suicide but was unsuccessful. I like the way the movie portrayed it because by 1975, she had had enough and started to dedicate herself to her Buddhist beliefs and chanting. She pulled strength from within that she never realized she had and left Ike with only .36 cents in her pocket. This left her very poor and living on food stamps.
Tina has proven to be a survivor because she left with only the responsibilities of continuing to raise her children. You could feel Ike’s defeat in the movie when she asked for the rights to keep her stage name which she felt she earned. This time proved to be especially difficult; Ike made sure that he planted the seed for those that might have anything to do with Tina's future. They felt that she was responsible for all the debt that was left after she departed from Ike and the Rhythm Kings.
Tina was not defeated forever. By the 1980's, she resurfaced with a solo contract and did a remake of the Temptations "Ball of Confusion." "Her first single, a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," hit the Top 30. By 1984, "What's Love Got to do With It" was the years biggest hit. "Private Dancer" and "Better Be Good to Me" included two more top ten singles. (Bush, 2005). In 1985, she was in the movie role (Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome) and got another hit with its theme song, "We Don't Need Another Hero." By 1986, "Typical Male" was a hit and then Tina started another decline. "She's still selling albums though; 1989's Foreign Affair, 1996's Wildest Dreams, and 2000's Twenty Four Seven." (Bush, 2005).
Tina Turner, a.k.a. Anna Mae Bullock, might have not been recognized early in her life for the voice that has been characterized as strength from within or the seductive way she carries herself on stage. She might have been picked on as a child, and beaten down as a young adult, but she certainly developed into a woman of impeccable beauty with a down to earth kindness that is never hidden.
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Bush, J. (2005). Tina Turner biography. Allmusic.Com. Retrieved March 2,2005, from http://www.allmusic.com!cg/ amg. dll ?p=amg&sql=ll:audi y 14 i xppb~ TI
Busnar, G. (1987). The picture life a/Tina Turner. New York: Franklin Watts.
Lanier, K. (Screenwriter). (1991). What's love got to do with it. [Motion Picture]. Burbank, CA: Touchstone Pictures.
Walters, B. (2005, February 10). Tina Turner, all the best. Rolling Stone, 78-79.
Wynn, R. (1985). Tina, the Tina Turner story. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.