Despite admitting to feeling unlovable and rejected throughout her life, the late singer gave us more than she could ever know
In 1996, Tina Turner was interviewed by investigative journalist Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes. In the interview, they toured her French estate in Nice, which overlooked the French Riviera. While they stopped to admire the view, Wallace ludicrously asked Turner, “You think you deserve all this?” Without hesitation, she exclaimed, “I deserve more!”
This clip has dominated social media since Turner’s death was announced yesterday (May 24). After her seven-year battle with intestinal cancer, the singer died peacefully in her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland. While the clip is now all over social media and has been referenced in almost every tribute to her, it’s a clip I hope we never stop sharing when we reminisce about Turner and her remarkable life. Turner always told her truth, regardless of what other people thought of her. She deserved more in this life, and she knew it.
Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock, is rightly known as the “Queen of Rock and Roll; and as author, Maureen Mahon writes in her book Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll, she did not arrive at this position by accident. When Turner began her career, she started by singing rhythm and blues, which is inextricably linked to rock and roll. From her debut single “A Fool in Love” in 1960, her cover of “Proud Mary” in 1971 and “Nutbush City Limits” in 1973, her rough and raspy vocals overwhelmed and captivated anyone listening to her.
Like most people born after the 2000s, the first songs I ever heard by Turner were “What’s Love Got to Do with It” or “Simply the Best”. I’m not sure which song came into my life first, but I knew I wanted to dance every time I heard them. When I’d watch her music videos, I became utterly infatuated by her big hair and wild dance routines and by the fact her vocals weren’t clean or pretty but aggressive and demanding. When Turner took to the stage, she seemed completely uninhabited; free to yell, scream and dance in a way that Black women are so often denied. We must be perfect, polished and put together all the time, but Turner provided an escape through her music – not just for herself, but for all Black women.
This was the Turner I was brought up knowing. The Turner with the big smile, long legs and even higher heels. Her music was effortlessly fun, but she never hid the fact she was hurting. In her 1968 cover story for Rolling Stone, she told them, “If I had been that kind of person, do you think I could sing with the emotions I do? You sing with those emotions because you’ve had pain in your heart.” As Morgan Jerkins wrote in her tribute for Turner for The Cut, Turner spoke out about the domestic and sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband during a time when women were not believed. Today, little has changed about how survivors of abuse are treated within society, as we’ve seen through the treatment of Megan Thee Stallion and Amber Heard. Still, throughout her life, she continued to be open and vulnerable. Turner didn’t want to be seen simply as a symbol of strength. She wanted people to know the truth about her life and what she went through, and she did just that numerous times through her 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, her 1993 biographical film, What’s Love Got to Do with It, her 2021 HBO documentary TINA, and her jukebox musical TINA: The Tina Turner Musical. It’s difficult not to see her as a symbol of strength when throughout her life, she’s dominated the narrative of her abuse time and time again.
In a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Turner told Winfrey that she’s at peace with knowing that she will die one day: “I’m at a stage in my life where I’m not excited to die, but I won’t regret when it’s my time because I’ve done what I’ve come here to do. Now, it’s time for pleasure. I’ve got great friends, a great man in my life and now I’m happy.” Turner gave us more than she could ever know, and even though throughout her life she felt unlovable and rejected (as she expressed in her 2021 documentary), I hope she knew just how much she meant to Black women, how much she empowered us and how much we loved her in the final years of her life.
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