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The Old Sachem: Rollin On The Riva

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By Bill Stewart


From the first time I heard her sing, I have been enthralled by the music of Tina Turner. I’m sure that you know the songs that she sang: “A Fool in Love,” ”River Deep – Mountain High,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and the one I most admire, “Proud Mary.”

“Left a good job in the city

“Working for the man every night and day

“And I never lost one minute of sleeping

“Worrying ’bout the way that things might have been

“Big wheel keep on turning

“Proud Mary keep on burning

“And we’re rolling rolling, rolling

“Rolling on the river”

The songwriter was John Fogerty and the lyrics are owned by BMG Rights Management Concord Music Publishing LLC. I have only listed a single verse here, but you can find the whole song under Google.

Although you have heard her songs many times, I’ll bet you don’t know much about Tina Turner. She was born November 26, 1939, in Brownsville, Tennessee. Her birth name was Anna Mae Bullock, the youngest daughter of Floyd Richard Bullock and his wife Zelma Priscilla (née Currie). Her parents moved to Knoxville to work at a defense company during World War II. Anna was left with her strict, religious grandparents, who were Deacon and Deaconess at Woodland Missionary Baptist Church. After the war the family returned to the Knoxville area in a small farming community known as Nutbush. Tina was a young singer at the Nutbush Spring Hill Baptist Church.

Her mother ran away from an abusive relationship, and Tina and her sisters were left with their maternal grandmother, Georgeanna Currie, in Brownsville, Tennessee. As a teenager she worked as a domestic worker. She was a member of the cheerleading squad and played basketball for Carver High School in Brownsville. When Anna was 16, her grandmother died, and Anna went to live with her mother in St. Louis. Upon graduating from Summer High School in Brownsville, she became a nurse’s aide at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Anna and her sister often attended night clubs in the area. She saw Ike Turner perform with his band, Kings of Rhythm, at the Manhattan Club in East St. Louis. She was taken by the talent of the band and asked Ike if she could sing a few songs accompanied by the band. He turned her down; the band played without a woman singer. One night in 1957 when the drummer, Eugene Washington, during an intermission left the stage, Anna grabbed his microphone and began singing B.B. King’s ballad “You Know I Love You.” Ike was impressed; he asked her if she knew any other songs and she sang a few accompanied by the band.

She became a singing member of the band, and Ike began teaching her the fine points of vocal control and performance. In 1958 she made her first recording using the name Little Ann on the song “Boxtop” along with the band and the band’s male singer, Carlson Oliver. In 1960, she convinced Ike to let her sing “A Fool In Love” written by Ike. The tape was sent to Juggy Murray, President of R&B label Sue Records. Murray liked what he heard and presented Bullock with $25,000 to acquire the record and all rights. Murray convinced Ike to make her star of the show, and he renamed her Tina. During the sixties they married and their songs skyrocketed to the top 10 and number two in Rock and Roll.

She went on to become a leading singer: appearing in television, cutting albums and records and doing stage performances.

Their marriage became very harmful to Tina, and Ike became heavily addicted to cocaine. She filed for divorce in 1976.

She continued her music career and died in May of this year. I often sing “Proud Mary” to myself and hear Tina in the background. We will miss the rockingest singer to perform during our lifetime.


  (Editor’s Note: Bill Stewart, better known to Saugus Advocate readers as “The Old Sachem,” writes a weekly column about sports – and sometimes he opines on current or historical events or famous people.)

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