She is the self-described “girl from the cotton fields” who grew up in Nutbush, Tennessee, as Anna Mae Bullock and—as Tina Turner—would go on to become one of the best-selling artists of all time, shifting some 200m records to date. Now, a new HBO documentary, Tina — from Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin, the Oscar-winning directors of 2011’s Undefeated — chronicles her story through archive footage and interviews with those who know her and, most saliently, creates a space where Turner herself can reclaim her narrative once and for all.
Against all odds, the star navigated her ascent through the darkest and most turbulent of times. For two decades after they met in 1956, on stage Tina dazzled as she performed alongside her musician husband Ike Turner, turning out hits including Proud Mary (1971) and Nutbush City Limits (1973). Privately, however, Ike subjected Tina to physical and emotional abuse, which began in the early 1960s and ended on Independence Day in 1976, when she fled the Dallas hotel room, where Ike lay sleeping, with just 36 cents in her pocket.
With the 1984 release of What’s Love Got To Do With It came the rebirth—not the comeback—of Turner. “It was Tina’s debut,” she explains in the documentary, “this was my first album.” She wore cropped dresses, her hair was shorter and she had a dream: “To be the first Black rock’n’roll singer to pack places like The Rolling Stones.” She rose above racist music executives to perform in front of 180,000 fans; played the indomitable Aunty Entity in blockbuster Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985); released a memoir I, Tina: My Life Story (1986) and a movie biopic, and performed nine solo tours.
Although Turner took her last bow from public performance aged 69 in 2009, her ability to captivate a global audience never waned. Since retiring to Switzerland with her second husband Erwin Bach, a music executive she married in 2013, she has published another autobiography My Love Story (2018), seen a musical about her life—Tina: The Tina Turner Musical—open in London and New York, and picked up a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Tina, by all accounts though, is the 81-year-old icon’s swan song and thank you to her fans. Here, Vogue reflects on the most memorable moments from the superstar’s dazzling six-decade career with the people who know her best.
“My brother Gianni and I dressed Tina when she performed in Milan in May 1997. We created a lingerie-style minidress made from crystal mesh, very short. When she saw it, she said, ‘Shorter.’ As she put the dress on and looked at herself in the mirror, there was a sudden change in her attitude. The lioness came out. Tina really understands and is able to harness the power of clothes. Backstage, before the performance, she danced with Gianni. It was magical, I will never forget that moment. On stage, her energy was incredible!”
“When I think of my dear friend Tina, I think of determination, strength and an incredible work ethic. There are performers, there are singers and there are entertainers. Tina is all three.
“Tina was releasing her new album Private Dancer and had recently gone through a horrendous divorce when she agreed to be the opening act on my 1984 world tour Can’t Slow Down. I remember her walking into the rehearsal—she was very quiet, almost shy, with this amazing smile and personality. Then the music started and she turned into Tina Turner! To the point where I couldn’t perform—I would just sit and watch what she was doing.
“Being a fan of Tina is one perspective, but being on stage with her was the most incredible feeling of my entire life. There was no dull moment, it was all fire. What I love about Tina is she mesmerises you with her singing, her performance, her energy. When it was my turn to sing to her, she was talking to me the whole time; I couldn’t focus on what I was doing. She kept saying, ‘Give it to me Lionel! Give it to me!’ Encouraging me to the point where I was like, ‘If you just stop talking, I might be able to concentrate [laughs].’
“From the moment she stepped on stage with me during her comeback as the Tina Turner, to recording We Are The World (1985), to the time she took me on her Twenty Four Seven tour  after I took a break—we have shared moments in history that I will never forget. My friend is a star and a living legend—a one-of-a-kind spirit that the world is blessed to have.”
“Mine and Tina’s relationship is a longstanding one and, over the years, mutual respect and esteem have blossomed into a beautiful friendship. She has been by my side for some of the greatest milestones of my professional and personal life, such as when I was awarded [France’s highest honour] the Légion d’Honneur in 2008.
“I was flattered when Tina asked me to design her wedding dress in 2013, which she donned with her signature explosive charm. I saw her live in London in 2009 and her voice is the perfect combination of charisma, magnetism and strength—just like her.
“What I admire most is her irrepressible energy, the tenacity she has shown over the years and her way of evolving while remaining eternally young. Each time we’re together I realise, when I look at her, that time really does stand still for her.”
“I first met Tina in 1996 backstage at her Wildest Dreams tour and I was in awe. She was everything you would expect: gorgeous, gracious and a total badass. I was very familiar with her life story and I marvelled that she never gave up. It makes me happy to know she has been properly loved for many years now. And while she no longer performs on stage, those of us who adore her are still here, cheering her on.”
“I first met Tina in 1964. We [The Rolling Stones] were just starting our UK tour. Backstage, a dressing room door opened and there, right before our eyes, was Tina Turner. After getting over the initial shock, I met a beautiful, graceful lady full of warmth, charm and humour. From then on, she was like our older sister. I remember her telling Mick [Jagger] to put some [menthol] rub on his chest because his voice was a little hoarse. We worked together many times after that. Tina would wind the audience up every night and she still does. What a woman!”
“I started working with Tina shortly after her divorce from Ike [in 1978]. She was getting back into show business—her shows in Las Vegas would see her change a dozen times, and she’d perform on television with Cher. In fact, I made them identical dresses with sequin flames. The two of them were dressed exactly alike—it was truly amazing! Tina’s body and legs are incredible so it would be boring to put her in an evening gown. She shopped around some of the cheaper boutiques in Paris, brought me dresses and said: ‘Make me look like a cavewoman!’
“Years later, for her 50th-anniversary tour in 2008, I was dressing her. I visited her at her house in Switzerland and when I arrived she was telling the gardener exactly how she wanted things done; all of her costumes were carefully organised in her garage—she’s a real perfectionist.
“Tina was well into her seventies at this point. During the performances, she’d charge out high above the audience on a mechanical arm we called ‘the claw’ in towering Louboutin pumps and no safety harness. She knew exactly who she was and what she was going to give us up on that stage. The woman is truly a force of nature and I adore her.”
“I’d never had the opportunity to vocalise with someone I grew up listening to. Unfortunately, they had all passed on—Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Muddy Waters. But there I was, in 1990, walking down a crowded boulevard in Nice in the south of France, singing It Takes Two for a Pepsi commercial with goddess Tina Turner. And we both had similar haircuts!
“Tina may have sung with Bowie and Jagger, but one of my favourite memories was pure, sparkling magic when we sang Hot Legs at The Forum in Los Angeles, in 1981. What a legend. What a vocalist. The absolute epitome of sexiness… Tina wasn’t bad either.”
Tina is streaming now on HBO until 2 May, 2021, and will be released internationally in June.