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By Elwood Watson

Tina Turner, who died last month, was an pioneer and an artist who personified the word innovative.

Like her contemporary, Little Richard, Tina Turner brought an uncompromised strand of Black Southern music, the sound of the Chitlin’ Circuit itself, into the lives of teenagers and adults around the globe. She garnered appeal across racial boundaries at a time when the nation was highly segregated, and she helped pave the way for future female artists such as Gloria Gaynor, Beyonce, Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and others.

The younger of two sisters children born on November 26, 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee, Anna Mae Bullock was a child of the Great Depression. She grew up in a segregated, Jim Crow environment where racism, poverty, and a torrential downpour of other social impositions, indignities and injustices were endemic.

Turner found an escape in the world of music. While race and gender were defining factors in her identity, sexuality helped shape her career in complex ways.

Many of her songs focused on pursuing intensely sexual themes of men (and in some case, women) who were powerful, abusive, manipulative and bereft of any cogent level of humanity. It was in these songs that her pain manifested itself as she cried out and demanded respect. Through it all, her radically flamboyant public persona upended mores and customs on how women entertainers should present themselves. Her “I am me, I am here, deal with it,” defiant message inspired many of her peers.

Long before it was socially acceptable for female artists to do so, Turner daringly and unapologetically pushed the boundaries of sexuality. In the genesis of her career, her skin tight outfits (inspired by the cartoon character Sheena of the Jungle) and garish clothes coupled were a revelation to audiences more accustomed to female entertainers who dressed in a more conventional style.

Turner brazenly twisted, hopped, hollered, tapped and gyrated in front of large groups. While she could never be easily defined, demonstrating such an unrestrained degree of sexually charged behavior was a quite audacious stance to take, particularly for female artist in the early to mid 1960s.

The period of the mid-1970s to early 1980s was challenging for the female rock pioneer. The abuse she was enduring from her husband, Ike Turner, continued. Physically and emotionally, she was in a psychological funk. To many, she was viewed as an artist whose time had passed. Various attempts at comebacks during this period of her life were met with minimal success.

What a difference a decade made! The 1980s returned Tina Turner into the spotlight with a number of profitable ventures for the then 40ish entertainer. Her 1984 hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” was a chart-topping megahit. Her album “Private Dancer,” was a multi-million seller, introducing her to a new generation of fans as well. Her massively incredible career comeback likely inspired other artists, such as Jefferson Starship, Aretha Franklin, and Cher to reestablish their careers and begin touring again.

Turner was bold, daring, raw, visionary, and fearless in a way that few artists dared to be. While her influence and presence may be more limited among younger millennials and generation Z, she was one of the most distinctive, definitive, and pioneering voices ever produced in the world of music. Her music can be described as many things, but as was the case with her extraordinary life, it was anything but dull.

She was “simply the best.” May she rest in peace.

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