Watching Tina perform is what I call a spiritual experience. Each electrifying swing of her miniskirt, every slide of her three-inch Manolos across the stage, sends a message: I am here. I have triumphed. I will not be broken. When I leave a Tina concert, I feel the same way I do after I've seen any great art: I want to be a better human being.
Before Tina Turner—a stage name Ike Turner gave her—there was Anna Mae Bullock, a girl born to sharecropping parents in 1939. Her father and her mother, who was part Native American, left her during World War II to be raised by her grandmother in Nutbush, Tennessee, while they worked in Knoxsville. In Nutbush, Tina fantasized about stardom while singing in talent shows and at church. After moving to St. Louis at age 16, Anna was discovered by Ike, the leader of the R&B band the Kings of Rhythm. Within a few years, her stirring vocals and energetic dance moves catapulted her from backup singer to the act's dominating force, which was renamed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
In 1960 the couple had a son, Ronnie. (Ike already had two sons, and Tina had one.) The same year, they landed their first hit, "A Fool in Love," and in 1962, they were married in Tijuana. The band's crossover to pop came with "River Deep—Mountain High" (1966)—a song that, while not a chart topper in the United States, propelled them to European acclaim. Onstage Ike and Tina soared, but offstage she suffered through his violent attacks. One night in 1976, after arriving in Dallas to begin a tour, he beat her bloody en route to the hotel. As soon as he fell asleep, Tina put on sunglasses to disguise her bruised face and escaped with 36 cents in her pocket. She found refuge in a nearby Ramada Inn, then fled to Los Angeles.
After the split, Tina paid her rent by cleaning houses. She eventually broke into cabaret, performing old hits, and later played Las Vegas. Finally, in 1984, with her own manager and a new record label, Tina released her breakout solo album, Private Dancer . The record sold more than ten million copies; she won three Grammys and scored her first number one hit: "What's Love Got to Do with It." In 1986 her autobiography, I, Tina , was published, exposing the shocking abuse she'd endured. (The book was made into the 1993 movie What's Love Got to Do with It .) Since leaving Ike, Tina has become an international rock and soul legend whose packed concerts are among the top selling in history. For nearly 20 years, she's been living in Zurich with her longtime partner, Erwin Bach.
Although she officially hung up her high heels from the big tours in 2000, she returned to the United States last winter with the release of her double CD anthology, All the Best . I spent my birthday, January 29, with her at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. At 65 she's more gorgeous than I've ever seen her. "I've never been happier," she said. Her face and demeanor showed it. I've talked to Tina many times on TV, and in this interview, I found her at her most candid—about the years with Ike, rocking on through her 60s, loving a man 16 years her junior, and the one dream she still has.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Tina Turner
This interview appeared in the October 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.