Issue 230 — May 28, 2023
Back in the day, a friend of mine used to say that she wanted to BE Tina Turner.
As the tributes flowed following Turner’s death on May 24 at 83, it was obvious that she had an equally significant impact on countless people around the world. (In Australia, the whole country stopped to dance to “Nutbush City Limits.”)
Looking back on the life of the legendary singer and performer, it’s easy to find reasons to identify with her. Tina Turner was born as Anna Mae Bullock on November 26th, 1939, in the small town of Nutbush, Tennessee. Turner led a life filled with harsh difficulties that all too many women can relate to. And yet, she lived an inspiring life of not only overcoming but soaring far higher than her past success with her abusive ex-husband Ike Turner.
She became a performing phenomenon after she restarted her career at age 41, taking nothing from her marriage but her name with which she had become known. By her death, she had become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, received 12 Grammy awards, was the first woman and first Black artist to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — once with Ike Turner and once on her own.
Physical strength in a woman — that’s what I am. — Tina Turner
Her legacy is her music, her powerful presence on stage, and her valuable lessons for all women and men — especially for women leaders.
Three important lessons that stand out most poignantly to me from her journey are these:
Resilience and Perseverance: Tina Turner’s life was marked by immense challenges, including personal struggles to escape extreme physical and emotional abuse, and professional obstacles to start her career over at midlife. After a particularly brutal incident in Dallas in 1976, Tina mustered the courage to leave Ike, fleeing with only 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. This marked the beginning of her journey to independence and freedom from the abusive relationship. But she tenaciously kept her focus on her goals as a performer. Her obituary in the New York Times included this quote that says it all:
“This woman rose like a Phoenix from the ashes of abuse, a derailed career, and no money to a renaissance like I’ve never seen in entertainment,” Sherrilyn Ifill, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said on Twitter. “She became fully herself and showed us all how it’s done.”
Embracing Authenticity: Tina Turner’s success can be attributed in part to unapologetically being exactly who she was. She embraced her unique style, voice, and personality, refusing to conform to anyone else’s expectations. As I have come to learn from my own leadership journey and wrote about in my book Intentioning, great leaders know themselves and show themselves to others. Women leaders can draw inspiration from Turner’s ability to be true to herself and allow her uniqueness to draw people to her. In 1993 Turner told her story, releasing her autobiography, I, Tina, which details her tumultuous relationship with Ike Turner and her personal struggles. Her biographical film, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” depicted her life and career with Angela Bassett playing the title role.
Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go — purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything… whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.— Tina Turner
Know Your Power and Maintain Your Independence — and don’t forget to dance: Though the first part of her career was molded and directed by Ike Turner, Tina Turner asserted her independence and embraced her phenomenal personal and talent power. She reclaimed her voice and her agency.
My legacy is that I stayed on course… from the beginning to the end, because I believed in something inside of me. — Tina Turner
We don’t have to be Tina Turner to learn from her example.
Tina Turner’s life and legacy serve as a powerful reminder for women to embrace their power and independence, build resilience knowing it is possible to come back from adversity, even from years of abuse, and maintain authenticity, owning what is uniquely theirs while navigating the path to success.
People think my life has been tough, but I think it has been a wonderful journey. The older you get, the more you realize it’s not what happens, but how you deal with it. — Tina Turner
GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50 2022, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.