Tina Turner HBO Documentary TINA Pays Fitting Tribute to a Music Legend

click to enlarge HBO's new documentary tracks Tina Turner's rise from a St. Louis teen to an international superstar. - HBO/OFFICIAL RELEASE POSTER
HBO's new documentary tracks Tina Turner's rise from a St. Louis teen to an international superstar.

Recently released on HBO, the documentary TINA aims to chronicle R&B legend Tina Turner’s ambition, her talent, her struggles and her rise to fame that all started right here in St. Louis.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Brownsville, Tennessee, Turner moved to St. Louis as a youngster. She started building a name for herself in high-energy local venues like the Club Imperial when she was only a teenager, after picking up a hot mic and singing with an established band when she was just seventeen.

Though she was still in high school, Turner started performing every weekend, leading a dual life of both a schoolgirl and a glamorous entertainer clad in fancy dresses beneath fur coats.

“I wasn’t thinking of, ‘I’ll go to St. Louis and I’ll start singing and I’ll be a star,”’ Turner says in the documentary. “I was young. Naive. Just a country girl, and everything just opened up to me.”

TINA follows Turner’s rise from St. Louis to superstardom. Beginning with her hit 1960 single “A Fool in Love,” Turner captured international audiences with her energy and authenticity. From that first “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey,” listeners knew that Turner was something special.

Translated into secular culture, her roots in gospel and Baptist church music had Turner taking on the role of a naturally sexy soul revival preacher, which made her performances far more thrilling than many others’ during that time. While the majority of her peers were doing tight rehearsed steps while singing, Turner danced powerfully and unpredictably, exploding like a firework on stage.

“I was standing there watching her and saying, ‘Whatever that is, I want some of that,’” Oprah Winfrey says in TINA. “I got the spirit. It was no different than being in a church where you are moved and stirred to the point where you could feel it inside yourself.”

After slaying audiences with performances of songs like “River Deep – Mountain High” and “Proud Mary,” Turner took some time out of the public eye before returning with one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

By the 1980s, Turner’s ambition was still in full force, and she set her sights on a bigger goal: to be the first Black rock singer to sell out football stadiums. She even invented a whole new look to represent her new rock babe persona, wearing her hair bigger and her skirts shorter.

At age 41, Turner scored her first (and only) No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” off of her multi-platinum Private Dancer album also won a Grammy for Record of the Year. Her success didn’t end there, though: Turner went on to release many other hits including “We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” and “I Don't Wanna Fight.”

Her live concerts were mega productions, drawing in thousands each night and, yes, she did become the first modern Black rock singer to consistently sell out football stadiums. But then she executed a calculated fade from the spotlight.

“Some people say the life that I lived and the performances that I gave, the appreciation is blasting with the people. And, yeah, I should be proud of that — I am — but when do you stop being proud?” Turner continues. “How do you bow out slowly? Just go away?”

The documentary team catches up with Turner in the present day as she reminisces about the past and the decisions she’d made regarding her life and career.

She lives quietly now, in Switzerland, having given up her American citizenship after obtaining Swiss citizenship in 2013. Her home is opulent but homey, a light-filled and peaceful place that looks like the perfect spot to spend one’s golden years.

In the film, her husband called the documentary “a closure,” a way for Turner to bow out gracefully. She is reportedly facing serious health problems, and audiences get the sense that this documentary is her last attempt at telling her own story.

Tina Turner’s life and career have always been described in terms of her relationship to men. Her misfortunes have always taken the spotlight when her personal strength, groundbreaking raw talent, incandescent performances and weighty contribution to the history of American music should’ve been the focus all along.

Turner was introduced to a whole new generation of fans recently when her song “The Best” was featured multiple times on the Emmy Award-winning comedy Schitt’s Creek. It’s possible that these fans will want to know more about Turner and will search out the TINA documentary.

From there, through videos of her old performances, they’ll learn what we’ve all known in St. Louis for decades: Tina Turner really is simply the best.
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About The Author

Jaime Lees

Jaime Lees is the digital content editor for the Riverfront Times.
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