Before she was Tina Turner, she was Anna Mae Bullock, a 17-year-old Sumner student who gigged around St. Louis and East St. Louis.
by Amanda Woytus
May 24, 2023
Tina Turner, the Queen of Rock and Roll known for her powerful vocals in “Proud Mary,” her bestselling album Private Dancer, and her fringe dresses—and lesser known for her time living in St. Louis—is dead at age 83. The news was confirmed on her official Facebook page.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner,” the statement began. “With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow. Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music. All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly.”
Turner, who was a Swiss citizen, died in her home near Zurich after a long illness, her manager told the Associated Press.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner was for a time a student at Sumner High School in St. Louis, having moved to the city at age 16. In a statement released Wednesday, Saint Louis Public Schools wrote: “It brings pride to all of us at SLPS who get to claim her as ‘one of ours.’ While most of us never had the opportunity to meet her, we all feel as if we know her a little bit. Her music has been a soundtrack for our lives.”
It was at St. Louis’ Club D’Lisa where Turner first performed with Ike Turner, whom she later married and sang with as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The couple gigged around St. Louis and East St. Louis at venues such as George Edick’s Club Imperial. But Ike abused her, and when she divorced him, in 1978, it didn’t hamper her career. Instead, she rocketed toward superstardom with her 1984 album Private Dancer. A track off that album, “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” perhaps her best-known song, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2021, St. Louis Magazine wrote about some of Sumner’s most famous former students including Turner:
Anna Mae Bullock, a 17-year-old Sumner student, is out with her sister Alline at Club D’Lisa. It’s 1956, Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm is the hottest band around, and everyone is jockeying for a chance to get onstage and sing with Turner. Turner brings on Pat, a classmate of Anna Mae’s. Pat is younger than Anna Mae and, in Anna Mae’s opinion, she can’t carry a tune.
Anna Mae is the young woman Turner will eventually christen with the stage name Tina Turner. The rest of the world will nickname her the Queen of Rock and Roll. The pair will find success with their band, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. In their hit cover of “Proud Mary,” Tina’s voice is so fiery in the second half of the song that it nearly combusts. She’s singing about a woman leaving the everyday behind for a riverboat adventure on the Mississippi—freedom from working for The Man night and day. And after divorcing Ike, Tina will propel herself to superstardom with her 1984 album Private Dancer.
Anna Mae cut her vocal chops in Nutbush, Tennessee, singing “Amazing Grace” at the Spring Hill Baptist Church or whatever song Bootsy Whitelaw played on the trombone during their summertime picnics. “I was just a little girl, little Anna Mae, and I’d shout, ‘Come on, everybody, sing with Mr. Bootsy,’” Turner writes in her autobiography, I, Tina. Later, in Knoxville, Anna Mae’s mother will take her shopping, and the girl will perform for the sales ladies and customers. The quarters they give her will go into a big glass bank—her first paid gigs. But Anna Mae longs for glamour, music beyond singing along with the radio, or in church, or with Mr. Bootsy.
Anna Mae has asked Alline to tell her boyfriend, the Kings of Rhythm drummer, to give her a shot. Turner hasn’t called her, but one night, it’s intermission, and he’s alone onstage. He starts playing B.B. King’s “You Know I Love You” on the organ. Anna Mae knows the words. She seizes the opportunity—and the mic.
Darling, you know I love you, I love you for myself
Turner runs off the stage to pick her up.
In her autobiography, she writes, “It was the first time I ever felt like a star.”
The HBO documentary Tina, which premiered that same year, offered a look at Turner’s time in St. Louis, singing on the weekends with Ike and attending classes at Sumner during the week.
In 1991, Turner was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She won eight Grammy awards throughout her career and has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The star’s location is 6378 Delmar.
In November, the Fox is scheduled to stage Tina—The Tina Turner Musical.
From 2018–2023, Amanda was St. Louis Magazine’s deputy editor, covering news and culture.
May 24, 2023
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