Tina Turner was cleaning houses in 1976. A few years later, she became one of the biggest artists in the world.

TINA - The Tina Turner Musical
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“Watching Tina [Turner] perform is what I call a spiritual experience,” reflected Oprah Winfrey in a 2005 feature she wrote on the megastar. 

“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." 

Indeed, Tina Turner has been met with more adversity than anyone ever should. 

And now her story will be shared – and her much loved songs will be sung – as TINA - The Tina Turner Musical arrives on stage at Theatre Royal Sydney in May. 

The musical is starring Zimbabwean Australian Ruva Ngwenya in the leading role as Tina. Excitement continues to build following the rave reviews and casual 37 award nominations the production received from Broadway and the West End.

Presented in association with Tina Turner herself, the musical is a celebration of the iconic songs – and her grit and defiance in overcoming suffering to triumph as *the* Queen of Rock n' Roll. 

Watch: TINA - The Tina Turner Musical is rollin’ into Sydney in May 2023. Post continues below.

Video via Youtube.

A difficult upbringing

Before Tina Turner, she was Anna Mae Bullock, born in 1939 to sharecropping parents in Brownsville, Tennessee. 


It was a humble upbringing, “We weren't in poverty. We had food on the table. We just didn't have fancy things, like bicycles,” Tina recounted to Oprah. 

Her first glimpse of a TV, and the concept of stardom was gleaned when the Poindexters – the white family who owned the estate on which Bullock’s parents farmed – allowed them to watch their television once a week. 

“That’s when I saw Loretta Young on TV. I thought someday I’d have a star on my dressing room.”

Tina was one of three children who were separated when her parents were relocated to work at a defence facility in Knoxsville, Tennessee throughout World War II. She was sent to stay with her strict and god-fearing grandmother. 

“I had to sit more than I played. Oh, I was miserable.”

Her parents returned after the war, but then at the age of 11, Tina’s mother Zelma left unexpectedly to St Louis, fleeing the abusive relationship with her father, Floyd.

Tina was teased endlessly. “School can be really cruel,” she explained.

It wasn’t until she fell head-over-heels in love later in high school that she found some joy. His name was Harry Taylor. 

“Why did I fall so deeply in love? I think when you haven't had that much love at home, and then you find someone you love, everything comes out.”

Finding her voice

Ruva Ngwenya playing Tina in the 2023 musical. Image: Daniel Boud.


Throughout her youth, Tina sang at church and at picnics – but she didn’t like her voice. 

“I had the strange voice that most girl singers didn't have… I thought it was kind of ugly because it didn’t sound like Diana Ross,” she told CBS News’ Gayle King. 

“But then afterwards I thought, 'Yeah, it sounds like the guys.'"

After moving with her mother to St Louis, one evening Tina and the oldest sister went along to a nightclub. There she met Ike Turner, a popular singer there. 


Despite thinking he was “the ugliest person I’d ever seen,” she was captivated. 

“He had a presence. And then I watched him when he got on stage and he started. I thought, 'Oh, wow, I wanna sing with that band!’,” she told King. 

Tina says she tried to persuade Ike to let her join the band, but “he thought I couldn’t sing because I was a skinny-looking girl… He liked the ladies with the hips.”

The opportunity presented for Tina to prove herself one evening in 1957 when the drummer offered the microphone to Tina’s sister. Instead, Tina, then 17, grabbed it and belted out a B.B. King song.

She didn’t leave the stage for the rest of the night. 

The audience were enthralled – as was Ike. He immediately knew she had what it took to be a star.

Under the name Little Ann, she joined Ike’s band, Kings of Rhythm. Then in 1960, the pair recorded a demo of song, ‘A Fool in Love’.

The song caught the ear of a label executive.

It was the big break.  

Tina Turner was born.


Ike and Tina

It was Ike who put the name of Tina Turner upon her; even trademarking it in case she left the band, ensuring he could always find a ‘replacement’. 

This was just the beginning of Ike’s controlling behaviour. While Tina reflects fondly on their early days of their friendship – likening it more to that of a brother and sister – it changed once they became a couple in 1960.

Much has been written about the harrowing violence Tina faced from Ike, often right before she went on stage.

“He wanted his abuse to be seen. That was the shameful part,” Tina told Oprah. 

Meanwhile the show went on, and the success of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue continued to grow. Their songs climbed to the top of the charts and they became one of the biggest acts of the late-1960s and the 70s.

The hits kept coming: ‘River Deep Mountain High’, ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Nutbush City Limits’. Tina became the first female artist, and the first black artist to grace the front cover of Rolling Stone. 


But as their mainstream fame soared, so did Ike’s cocaine use - and abuse. 

As the couple made their way to a hotel in Dallas for a gig in 1976, they got into a physical fight in the back of the car. Once arriving at the hotel, Tina waited for Ike to fall asleep. As soon as he did, she escaped by foot to hide at a friend’s house. 

She had nothing – except 36 cents to her name. 

A lawyer friend then paid for her flight back to Los Angeles.

“The next day was the Fourth of July – Independence Day. That holiday had never meant so much,” she explained. 

Going from one of the biggest names in music at the time, Tina found herself taking on cleaning jobs in order to pay rent. She skimmed by, making ends meet for the next two years until after the divorce was finalised. 


At almost 40, Tina reemerged with a sexier image, stepping out as a solo artist. 

She performed at hotels and casinos – until she caught the attention of young Australian producer, Roger Davies.

Davies shared a demo of the song, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ and insisted Tina record a version - but she wasn’t interested. He was convinced it would be a hit, and eventually talked her around.

In 1984, at age 44, Tina Turner reached her first number one single. ‘Better Be Good to Me’ and ‘Private Dancer’ followed closely behind, cementing their way into the top 10. 


The next year, Tina won three Grammys. Since then, she’s been awarded another nine Grammys and has sold over 100 million records worldwide. 

And finally, in 1986 she found the true love she always craved, with German music executive, Erwin Bach, who is 16 years her junior. In 2013, they wed on the banks of Lake Zurich in Switzerland where they continue to live. 

Nowadays, that’s where she finds her greatest joy, she told Vanity Fair. 

“I love to sit in my garden and listen to nature, take loving care of my plants.” 

There have been health issues in more recent years – a stroke, intestinal cancer and kidney failure (and transplant) – but she has met it all with grace and her enduring resilience.  

She told King, “I have everything. When I sit at the Lake Zurich in the house that I have, I am so serene. No problems. I had a very hard life. But I didn't put blame on anything or anyone. I got through it, I lived through it with no blame. And I'm a happy person.”

You can now experience the smash hit musical that celebrates the life of an unstoppable woman, Tina Turner.  

TINA - The Tina Turner Musical is rollin' into Theatre Royal Sydney in May. Book your tickets now.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @rebeccadavis___

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

TINA - The Tina Turner Musical
TINA - THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL is rollin' into Theatre Royal Sydney in May 2023.
This smash hit musical phenomenon is a celebration of an unstoppable woman who became the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. Set to a soundtrack of Tina’s most loved hits, experience the story of an artist who didn’t just break the rules, she rewrote them.
This heart-pumping production is guaranteed to raise the roof at Theatre Royal Sydney.