Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images.
Tina Turner — Rock 'n Roll’s Greatest Showman Was Always a Woman
The big bang for the modern rock frontman was a woman — and that woman is the late Tina Turner.
Tina Turner is the blueprint. Her influence stretches across genres, genders, and generations, and it is in Tina that we can pinpoint the raw energy that came to define rock’s greatest performers. The icon’s death at 83, after an extended illness, has brought her legacy into sharp relief, and one especially noteworthy aspect is the way her performance seeped into so many who came after her. In rock, particularly, she formed a template for what it means to front a badass band.
It was Tina and the Ikettes who convinced and coached Mick Jagger into dropping his affected British bloozeman “cool” for something more animated. “Mick wanted to dance — and I was a dancer — but he never gave me the credit.” Tina said in a 2017 Daily Mail interview. “He said his mother taught him how to dance. But we worked with him in the dressing room, me and the girls, and we taught him how to Pony.’” (At the very least, the Stones served as one of Tina’s first major steps on the road to her comeback when she toured with them in 1980).
It was Tina who helped Jagger to move, and in doing so, further shaped the way we think of the rock frontman. In turn, Mick’s affected strutting would influence everyone from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Queen’s Freddie Mercury to The Hives’ Pelle Almqvist and The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins.
Rod Stewart’s sassy swagger was also a marker of the wide swath of Tina’s influence, and the two’s mutual admiration was evident when he caught her show at The Ritz in New York back in October 1981. A few years before her powerful comeback via the gargantuan success of Private Dancer, Tina performed several Stewart songs that night, and Rod wound up inviting Tina to appear as his guest on Saturday Night Live. It was Tina’s first appearance on the show, and a harbinger of what was to come once she fully re-emerged in 1984. In December, Rod and Tina again joined forces during his show at the Forum in Los Angeles.
Amid news of Tina’s passing, both Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart shared tributes to her.
“I’m so saddened by the passing of my wonderful friend Tina Turner,” Mick tweeted along with a collage of Turner. “She was truly an enormously talented performer and singer. She was inspiring, warm, funny, and generous. She helped me so much when I was young and I will never forget her.”
“I’m devastated, what a woman! A friend and mentor - ‘It takes two’ - but there was only one Tina Turner,” Rod wrote in his tribute via Instagram, sharing an image of himself with the late singer.
Tina’s kinetic stage presence was born from Chitlin Circuit tours; by the time Anna Mae Bullock joined Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in 1957, she was the center attraction. Ike’s infamously abusive and volatile nature made him a grueling taskmaster, and Tina’s emancipation became one of music’s most inspiring comeback stories. Once she’d broken free in 1976, it was apparent that Tina’s charisma and presence were hers, even if it took years for the industry to recognize what she was capable of as a solo artist.
Tina Turner cast an indomitable shadow across the musical spectrum as an entertainer, both onstage and as a vocalist. The raw, gutsy, and soulful vocals Tina provides on early ‘60s staples “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and “Fool In Love” is remarkable, with the latter winning Ike & Tina Turner a Grammy in 1962. That performance is another cataclysmic moment in rock’s evolution. Tina’s hard-driving voice is a jumping-off point for a new kind of female singer in popular music. From Janis Joplin to Melissa Etheridge, Tina’s voice would herald a change in the way mainstream music heard rock’s women. Tina’s success gave women the freedom to wail.
When one looks at the pantheon of iconic rock frontmen — that archetype of the preening rock star shuffling and pouncing onstage, belting out high energy rockers and melodramatic ballads — there’s a clear throughline to what Tina Turner was doing from the late ‘50s onward. She made it clear that you had to move, an idea born of the demanding audiences she had to win over before Ike & Tina became household names. Decades later, that standard and that style have become embedded into what we consider rock showmanship. Rock’s greatest showman was always a woman.
Tina’s mark is indelible. Her influence is immense. How could anyone forget? Through her music, she helped so many. And the Queen of Rock and Roll showed us all how to strut.
Todd “Stereo” Williams is an award-winning, NYC-based entertainment journalist and cultural commentator, whose work has been featured on SPIN, Rock The Bells and Billboard and more. Williams has produced documentaries and short films like “2AM,” while extensively covering popular culture and social topics of our times.
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