Tina Turner’s Freedom Of Expression Taught Me And The Black Women In My Life To Be Unapologetic

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So I was scrolling through my Twitter feed — as I typically do when I wake up in the morning — and I came across an update in my notifications. “Tina Turner among artists being considered for induction into the Rock & Roll hall of Fame”. 

I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t even take the moment in because, in my mind, she had of course already been inducted. I mean it only makes sense. Tina Turner is Tina Turner. The Godmother of Rock & Roll. The innovator of legs. The originator of the voluminous blonde shag. 

It hadn’t occurred to me that she was not yet a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, nor that this was the second time she was being nominated. I say all of that to say that, in my shock, I was also furious. It is an absolute crime that I simply can’t wrap my mind around. 

So I’ve decided, instead of trying to understand it, I’ll share with you how she’s impacted my life and the lives of the women who raised me. That’s right: Tina Turner’s contributions to music, beauty and culture have astronomically influenced the lives of Black women across generations and across the world. 

When I was a kid, my Dad was a stay-at-home parent. He took my brother and I to school and picked us up everyday. Being the wonderful music lover and pianist that he is, we would listen to music at almost every point of the day especially in the car. 

And I distinctly remember, on a hot day, my Dad, brother and I were all in the car running an errand when Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer” started to blare from the radio. (Backstory: I was always shocked at how seemingly religious Black people love and embraced artists like Tina Turner that stood in their sexuality with no apologies— but that’s a whole other article.) 

Anyways, for whatever reason, I knew the words and had seen her dance moves or created my own. So, as I was squirming around in the backseat, my Dad must’ve seen me. And he turned quickly around towards the backseat to tell me to never dance like that again. 

Admittedly, I was very young and he was totally in line. But that moment taught me that embracing sexuality makes people uncomfortable. And a little more life taught me that Black women embracing sexuality makes people especially uncomfortable. 

But the women in my family loved Tina Turner because of her very gall, and  I would definitely consider the women in my family to have a similar gall in how they lead their lives and love our other family members. My mom has dressed up as Tina Turner a couple times and my grandmother would dance in her seat while watching her perform on TV. And then there’s the incredible, immeasurable performance that Angela Bassett gave in “What’s Love Got To Do With It” that every woman in my family has mocked at one time or another.

We’re a Tina loving, Tina impersonating family. It was her muscular arms, her messy hair, her short skirts, her gorgeous legs and that infamous red lipstick that sealed the deal. Tina stood in her agency, and she demanded your attention simply by standing in her power. And she continues to inspire us and so many other people to do the same. 

So now, as I enter my thirties, what I consider to be the prime of my life and what’s proven to be the prime of my sexuality, I can’t help but think back on how even in my early age, I felt like Tina was giving me the permission to give myself permission. And, to me, that’s groundbreaking! 

She was the first to do it the way that she did while coming up against racism, sexism and an abusive husband. So when we start talking about the doors she opened and the barriers she broke down musically? That more than deserves acknowledgement. It deserves celebration!

 

Born in 1939 to sharecropper parents in Tennessee, Anna Mae Bullock became Tina Turner after moving to St. Louis in 1955. She was just 16 years old when Ike Turner discovered her and made her a background singer for his band. Her bold voice and sultry moves propelled her to the front of the stage where she soon became the voice of the band, to Ike’s disliking. They had their first child, married in 1962, and continued to tour; that was until their Dallas Show in 1976, when Ike gave her one of his worst beatings (spoiler alert: he was an abusive asshole). So Tina  left their hotel while he was asleep, escaped to another hotel across the highway, and never looked back. 

But by this time, Tina was approaching her 40’s — deeming her undesirable in the eyes of American music labels and showrunners. So she cleaned houses to pay her rent, until a fateful meeting with David Bowie would change the rest of her life.

 In meeting up with him and a few other musical figures, she showcased the talent that she’d always had. She sang as she normally did, from a place of raw emotion that captures anyone listening anywhere. Once again, she became a symbol of “sex appeal, resilience and empowerment” after breaking out with her solo album in ‘84 and winning three Grammy’s in ‘86. Through a broken jaw, black eyes, hot coffee to the face and many other encounters that have gone undescribed, Tina Turner persevered. 

So often, Black women are idolized for our resilience, and honestly? It’s become exhausting.

It’s only after enduring so much that we are considered empowered, and that’s an outdated trope. Tina Turner deserves to have been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by now, if not because of her journey, but purely because of her talent. She holds 8 Grammys, 3 AMA’s, 2 MTV’s, a Kennedy Center Honors, a World Music Legend Award, a NAACP Image Award & an NRJ Music Award among many others. She was the first to breakthrough in Rock & Roll and pop the way she did — unapologetically while trailblazing not only in music, but in beauty. Her legs and lipstick are unforgettable, and her wigs have inspired thousands of queens in every sense of the word. 

Who else has done it?! And in their 40’s? No one, that’s who. Anytime that I or any of the women in my family saw her on tv or heard her song on the radio, we completely embodied her persona. From the jarring, popping dance movements, to the way she held her smile. How she pointed at the audience and how she smized while making eye contact. How she brushed her hair away from her face while sweating through her clothes. The freedom she walked in as she strutted on stage. All of it. Completely changed our lives for the better. To see a Black woman during the time that she was performing, do what she did — it was impactful, to say the least. 

Rock & Roll gatekeepers have always shied away from acknowledging the genre’s Black roots in the same way that non-inclusive, racist white men and women have ignored Black women. We are the fabric of America in every way, shape and form. And Tina gave us that permission.  Angela Bassett gave us that permission again, and the permission continues to be given by the actresses and  impersonators in the Broadway shows and dark clubs that sing Tina Turner’s songs and continue speaking life to her name. I could go on and on about this, but I think I’ve made my point. 

If Tina Turner is not inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I will riot in my bedroom. The riot being me calling my mom to rant about the injustice followed by me “rolling on the river” until my back gives out. Because Tina gave us all of her, even when she had nothing left to give. And at one time or another, every Black woman has been asked or forced to do the same. 

We identify with music, fashion and beauty icons who share our experiences or speak truth to their own, and few can do that the way Tina did through her music, books and even in the way that she’s enjoying the latter years of her life. Living out her lavish dreams in a mansion in Switzerland with her younger Beau that essentially worships the ground she walks on.

Sounds like a Cinderella story ending to me, and there’s no one in the world who’s more deserving — of that and everything else.

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