When Ike Turner discovered Anna Mae Bullock in St. Louis in the mid-1950s, she was fresh in the city from Nutbush, Tennessee. The daughter of sharecroppers, she’d been dancing and singing since she was a little girl, showing off at picnics and joining in the church choir. But it didn’t prepare her for the legendary Manhattan Club, where Ike Turner fronted the Kings of Rhythm. Anna fell under the spell of his energy and style, soon joining him onstage as a backup singer. As she told Oprah in 2005, Ike thought she was too skinny to have much of a voice, but one day she grabbed the mic anyway. “I could do B.B. king songs with all the emotion,” she said. “Ike said, ‘Girl, I didn’t know you could sing!’ I was so happy, because he was bigger than life. That’s when I knew I wanted to be an entertainer.” By 1960, Ike would give her the new name Tina (a way he could own her, she later revealed) and they would form the Ike & Tina Tuner Revue. Soon, they’d be married, and would catch the eye of Motown maestro Phil Spector, who produced much of their 1966 breakout LP Mountain Deep—River High—including the hit title track—and for the next decade, the duo would find fame with indelible renditions of classic songs like Proud Mary, and originals like Nutbush City Limits.
Despite her outward powerful image and dominant style–the mini skirts, the legs, the rough voice—she’d been suffering silently since early on in her relationship with Ike—a relationship, she later said, she’d never even wanted to be in. “During the time when I didn’t have a boyfriend and Ike had broken up with his woman, he started touching me,” she said. “I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know what to do or say. We were sitting in the backseat of a car. In those days, everybody did what Ike said. He had the power. He had never been mean to me, so I felt loyal to him. But I didn’t want a relationship with him.” One night in 1976, after one last severe beating at the hand of her husband, she waited for him to fall asleep, threw on some dark glasses, and walked out with only 36 cents to her name, never looking back.
For a few years, things were bleak: lawsuits from angry promoters, food stamps, earning money as a housekeeper. But in 1984 she released her first solo album, Private Dancer, which won her a Grammy and a number one song, What’s Love Got To Do With It. She released her memoir, I, Tina, finally telling her story of abuse, and joined fellow legends like the Rolling Stones and David Bowie onstage, and, just two years ago, married her long-time beau who she’s lived with in Geneva—proving that, as long as you keep your head straight, second acts can always outshine the first.