NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In 1976, young Tina Turner, bloodied and beaten by her husband and music partner Ike Turner, fled in the dark across a Dallas freeway, dodging trucks and cars with only a penny in her pocket.
That moment when she decided she had enough of physical, sexual and emotional abuse was a turning point for the “Queen of Rock and Roll”, who would experience a musical renaissance in the 1980s. After the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and global star died on Wednesday at the age of 83, tributes were often paid to her courage in the face of horrific violence.
But her story of survival and progress was much more than a comeback, say experts on culture and domestic violence. Turner reclaiming her career and her humanity on her own terms made her a pioneering black woman who refused to be defined by abuse.
Turner described that night in her 2021 documentary, “Tina,” describing the euphoria she felt: “I was very proud. I felt strong. I’ve never done this before.” She made the difficult decision to tell that part of her life in interviews and a biography, which was later adapted into the hit biographical film “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.
Raven Maragh-Lloyd, assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, he said the thread of the strong black woman is limiting when applied to women like Turner, whose career has combined multiple genres of music, acting and a distinct visual aesthetic.
“So much of her story is told through the lens of her survival or what she overcame to become a superstar, which is all relevant and true,” said Maragh-Lloyd. “At the same time, we risk erasing her emotions, her feelings, what it must have been like to go through that abuse.
“It’s part of her story, not her full humanity,” Maragh-Lloyd said.
Ike and Tina Turner’s public image, the name he gave her and then trademarked to prevent her from using it, was a brand she had to dismantle, even at personal cost.
“I wanted to stop people from thinking that Ike and Tina were so positive,” she said in the documentary. “We were such a love team or a great team. And it wasn’t like that. So I thought, if nothing else, at least people will know.”
Author Francesca Royster explored Turner’s country roots in her 2022 book, “Black Country Music: Listening to Revolutions,” and noted that her decision to leave Ikea hindered her career due to the financial impact and stigma of the divorce.
“She experienced a lack of interest from music companies who saw her as some kind of novelty act or a nostalgic act or a washed-up act,” said Royster, an English professor at DePaul University. “She was not credited with having that kind of creative power.”
Carolyn West, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Washington who focuses her research on marginalized women who experience sexual and domestic violence, said Turner confronts a long history and pattern of discrediting black women who have been abused.
“It was probably very hard for people to believe that Ike would do these things or that she actually survived or wasn’t somehow responsible for the abuse,” West said.
Nor do Turner’s experiences in the 1970s extend to today’s misogynoir faced by black artists like Meghan Thea Stallion and Rihanna, who both experienced intimate partner violence, West said.
“There’s really almost no space, especially for black women, to talk about those experiences,” West said. “The way Meghan was attacked, the way Rihanna was attacked, it’s almost like you’re being re-victimized.”
Turner wasn’t fazed. While singing in “Proud Mary”, she did not want to approach anything “nice and easy”.
She was in charge of revolutionizing her career in the 1980s with the album “Private Dancer” and its hit “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. She was a triple threat – singer, actor and writer – and became a worldwide touring phenomenon. She has sold more than 150 million records worldwide, won 12 Grammys, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as a duo and as a solo artist, and was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2005.
Her visual representation on screen and stage as strong, sexual and feminine with her big, bold hair and toned legs projected her own identity, Royster said.
“She really invented her own unique look with her lion mane and her combination of leather and denim and her ability to really move in those high heels,” Royster said. “Those have become trademarks.”
In her later years after retiring from music in the 2000s, Turner lived a long private life with longtime partner Erwin Bach in Switzerland, no longer beholden to anyone. Maragh-Lloyd said Turner’s acumen served her well until the end.
“She wanted no one to look at her, to perform for no one,” Marag-Lloyd said. “It’s also a lesson: you won’t waste me.”
For more information, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at https://www.thehotline.org/ or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).