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How Tina Turner set the stage for empowering women in music and life

The “Queen of Rock” – one of the most popular Black female solo artists of all time – trailblazed a path for showing women how to rise on their own merits.
Image: Tina Turner
Tina Turner performs onstage at the Poplar Creek Music Theater, Hoffman Estates, Ill, on Sept. 12, 1987.Paul Natkin / Getty Images

In a music career that spanned five decades, Tina Turner, the fierce rock icon behind timeless hits like “Proud Mary” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” passed away this week at the age of 83.

But the woman who was born Anna Mae Bullock on Nov. 26, 1939, leaves behind much more than a musical legacy.

Her battle through personal upheavals and private traumas – including severe alleged physical abuse by her ex-husband and artistic collaborator Ike Turner – empowered her as a trailblazer for all women through her path to resilience and reinvention.

She was the first woman and the first Black artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone — in just its second issue — and her massively successful solo career broke barriers for future generations of Black women in music.

On Thursday, “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist and Sirius XM’s Mark Goodman reflected on Turner’s remarkable comeback in the 1980s. “The fact that someone like her would come back and come back at the time that she did in music – in her mid-40s – to actually make it on MTV – stunning,” Goodman said.

As she reentered the music scene, Geist emphasized her outspokenness about the abuse endured in her marriage to Ike Turner and her ability to finally walk away. “That feminist side of the story was such an important part of who she was as well,” Geist said.

Goodman agreed: “She really was a signpost for so many women who were in that kind of relationship – you can get out, you can survive, you can thrive – she pointed the way.”

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Despite their critical success as a musical ensemble in the 1960s and 70s - The Ike and Tina Turner Revue - Turner’s tumultuous years with Ike took a severe toll. One day, she decided enough was enough.

She left Ike after they got into a fight en route to the Dallas Statler Hilton on July 1, 1976, heading out on her own with just 36 cents and a Mobil credit card in her pocket.

“She left an abusive relationship with literally pennies in her pocket,” Brzezinski said. “Talk about knowing your value to its core.”

MSNBC host Al Sharpton noted Turner’s musical comeback represented what it meant for a woman to achieve her ultimate success without the influence or direction of a man in a traditionally male-dominated industry. “Not only did she breakthrough for women that you don’t have to become enslaved in an abusive relationship, you can stand on your own as an artist,” he said.

Turner would go on to tour independently, opening for the Rolling Stones in 1981 and making guest appearances on television shows like “The Hollywood Squares.” But in 1984, everything changed: Turner released “Private Dancer,” a commercial and critical smash.

The album sold upwards of 20 million copies around the world and won three Grammy Awards, including record of the year and best female vocal performance, for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

"Tina Turner absolutely showed what a woman can do on her own,” Goodman said. “For performers in general, she showed what belief in yourself is – she was a practicing Buddhist – she focused on her faith, she prayed every day, she believed, and this is what happened.”

Turner’s musical success was accompanied by roles in movies, including “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” released in 1985. She went on to release popular albums across the late ’80s and the ’90s, including “Break Every Rule,” “Foreign Affair” and “Wildest Dreams.”

“All the Best,” a greatest-hits album, debuted in 2004. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. In 2021, she sold her music rights to BMG Rights Management for $50 million; later the same month, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo act.