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The genre-bending influence and legacy of Tina Turner

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST")

TINA TURNER: (Singing) In your eyes, I get lost. I get washed away.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The world of rock 'n' roll lost its queen yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST")

TURNER: (Singing) You're simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone, anyone I've ever met.

SUMMERS: Tina Turner died at her home in Switzerland on Wednesday. Despite the tributes that have poured in since that news broke, despite her decades of electrifying performances and chart-toppers and despite her alias, queen of rock 'n' roll, NPR It's Been A Minute host Brittany Luse says Turner never came anywhere close to getting the credit she deserved for shaping a genre. Brittany Luse is with me now. Welcome. We're so glad to have you.

BRITTANY LUSE, BYLINE: Thank you so much for having me. I'm happy to be here.

SUMMERS: Brittany, I hope you can just start, if you can, by explaining how someone that the world knows as the queen of rock 'n' roll did not get the due that she deserved.

LUSE: I mean, look. This is the thing. I'm just taking a cue from Tina. Tina said famously in a late '90s interview with Mike Wallace from CBS - when he asked her if she felt like she deserved all this, all this meaning her beautiful life, full of luxury, full of beloved fans and sold-out tours, she said, I think I deserve more. I deserve more. And I 100% agree. Tina Turner is an architect of rock 'n' roll, and I'm just not sure she's seen that way. You know, I think for many people, when they close their eyes and they think of a rock star, they picture a rock star, they picture someone like Mick Jagger. But Mick Jagger learned how to dance, learned how to perform standing in the wings, watching Tina Turner when they toured together in the 1960s. Tina Turner essentially taught Mick Jagger how to be Mick Jagger. And I just feel like, despite all of the accolades, I don't know if she really received, in her lifetime, the queen of rock 'n' roll treatment as the moniker so goes.

SUMMERS: So I think we can all agree that there are a lot of people who did not fully appreciate Tina Turner for who she was. But you point out that there is one person who really does get it right, and that is Oprah Winfrey. I just want to listen for a second to one of the ways that she talked about Tina Turner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OPRAH WINFREY: We are so in love with Tina. We are in love with Tina. She is our goddess of rock 'n' roll, Tina is.

SUMMERS: Not a queen, a goddess. Say more, Brittany.

LUSE: Ooh, a goddess. Oprah is 150% right. Oprah Winfrey is, you know, larger than life, and she has been for decades. She doesn't even need to use her last name. We all know Oprah as just, you know, a complete sentence. But the way we act when we see Oprah (laughter) is the way Oprah reacts when she sees Tina Turner. And I love that. I love that somebody as accomplished and as known and as famous and as just huge as Oprah is understands the power of Tina Turner and also knew well enough to call her a goddess.

There are so many beautiful moments of Oprah and Tina together on various Oprah shows and in Oprah interviews over the years. Oprah invited Tina Turner to her Legends Ball back in 2005, the incredible weekend she hosted at her home for so many, you know, Black women trailblazers. And, you know, Oprah, I think, is somebody who absolutely showed Tina the utmost respect throughout her life and really not just championed her story but championed her artistry.

I think of one story in particular. I think Oprah, in some ways, wanted to be Tina Turner. For an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she got a wig, a Tina wig, made so that they could kind of match. She wore it in that episode. She continued wearing it, though, after that, in many other episodes, started wearing it on the weekends, started wearing it to bed until eventually Stedman told her, hate to break it to you, but you're never going to be Tina Turner. To me, that sort of breathless fandom is the only way to regard the goddess of rock 'n' roll like Tina.

SUMMERS: OK, so we just heard Oprah talking about Tina Turner's Wildest Dreams tour. But, I mean, she was such a performer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TURNER: (Singing) You got to be mine.

MICK JAGGER: (Singing) 'Cause you're so fine.

TURNER: (Singing) I like your style.

JAGGER: (Singing) It makes me wild.

SUMMERS: I mean, this is Tina Turner on the Live Aid stage in 1985, and she was just electric. But, Brittany, I understand that when you think about Tina's greatest performance, you've got a different answer.

LUSE: Yes, I think many people think of Tina only as a stage performer, which - I mean, obviously she was one of the best to ever do it, but she also was electrifying on film. I'm thinking of the 1975 movie based on the album The Who's "Tommy," where she plays this character, the Acid Queen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACID QUEEN")

TURNER: (As The Acid Queen, singing) I'm the g****, the acid queen. Pay me before I start. I'm the g****. I'm guaranteed to tear your soul apart.

LUSE: The Acid Queen has this long solo in the middle of the film. I mean, Tina's changing costumes. She's belting. She's shaking and quaking with her whole body. She's wearing these tall, I mean, maybe six-, seven-inch tall, like, lipstick red platform heels, and she's giving it her all. I mean, and this is a film - you got Roger Daltrey in every scene. You've got, you know, like - you've got Elton John, you know, in one of the songs, you know, also performing in this film at one of the peaks of his fame in the mid '70s. But in a film full of rock stars, Tina, to me, stands out as the true supernova.

SUMMERS: I mean, look. There is no question that Tina is talented and powerful and was a multi-genre force across music. But one thing I find really interesting is that I understand that you didn't know much of Tina Turner's backstory when you became a fan. When you first encountered her, you met her as this powerful and successful performer, period. You only learned of her backstory, including the years of abuse that she suffered at the hands of Ike Turner, her ex-husband, later. Do you think that altered the lens through which you viewed her?

LUSE: I absolutely think that that shaped my understanding of her. When I first got to know Tina, I saw her as a woman who had come already on the other side. She was one of the biggest stars in the world to me, and I think I kind of assumed that things were always that way for her. As I got older and I, you know, read her memoirs and also, like many people, watched the "Tina" documentary that came out on HBO a couple years ago, I really came to understand not just what she survived but how she continued to advocate for herself, hold space for herself and maintain her peace even, you know, years after she had escaped her first marriage. You know, understanding just how common what she survived is, how common intimate partner violence and domestic abuse are, her story has really just deepened my appreciation for her not just as an artist but as a woman, as a human being.

SUMMERS: Brittany Luse of NPR's It's Been A Minute. Thank you so much for coming on this journey to remember Tina Turner with me.

LUSE: Oh, my absolute pleasure. It's the least I could do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT")

TURNER: (Singing) Oh, what's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a secondhand emotion? What's love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? What's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a sweet, old-fashioned notion? What's love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? What's love got to do, ooh, got to do with it? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brittany Luse
Brittany Luse is an award-winning journalist, on-air host, and cultural critic. She is the host of It's Been a Minute and For Colored Nerds. Previously Luse hosted The Nod and Sampler podcasts, and co-hosted and executive produced The Nod with Brittany and Eric, a daily streaming show. She's written for Vulture and Harper's Bazaar, among others, and edited for the podcasts Planet Money and Not Past It. Luse and her work have been profiled by publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vulture, and Teen Vogue.