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Musical Chronicles Tina Turner’s Journey to Fame in Later Years

“She had a complete career — spanning 16 years with Ike — during which she did not earn a single penny,” Roz White, who plays the role of Zelma Bullock, Turner’s sharp and strict mother, shared. “She had the opportunity to wear some stylish outfits, but he never compensated her financially. She did not reap the rewards of her hard work. By the time she reached her mid-40s, she had to maintain her allure, strength, and visibility to establish herself as a marketable figure. At times, persistence is essential. I recently celebrated my 600th show with ‘Tina,’ and I understand the feeling of still harboring unrealized dreams and goals because that’s just the nature of the industry.”

White, known for her performances in “Dreamgirls,” “The Amen Corner,” and “Seven Guitars,” commended Turner for her courage to break out of her comfort zone during her prime. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she vividly recalls the reactions from the Black community following Turner’s transformation around the release of her platinum album “Private Dancer” in 1984.

“Tina was willing to abandon her familiar appearance for a completely new style,” she explained. “I recall the older women in my community questioning why she sported blonde spiky hair and short skirts in her 40s. They believed she should have acted her age. However, Tina felt compelled to make the change. It was her destiny. She understood that she had to continue reinventing herself well into her 60s to demonstrate that it was achievable.”

Originally named Anna Mae Bullock and raised in rural Nutbush, Tennessee, Turner faced a challenging upbringing. As the youngest daughter of Floyd, a sharecropper overseer, and Zelma, her life took a tumultuous turn when Zelma abruptly left the family due to Floyd’s abusive behavior in 1950, relocating to St. Louis. At the age of 16, Turner reunited with her mother after her grandmother’s passing, eventually crossing paths with Ike one fateful night at Club Manhattan.

“Zelma is a highly intricate character, crucial because African American women are often depicted on screen and stage as nurturers; however, Zelma did not find happiness in her circumstances,” remarked White, aged 54. “She lacked the internal contentment required to be a nurturing mother. There was a noticeable absence of a genuine bond between Zelma and Tina. It’s imperative to showcase the diverse range of women and mothers. Regardless of the type of mother figure, the relationship plays a defining role in one’s life. Zelma’s decisions, whether agreeable or not, created the space for Tina to encounter Ike. Pleasant or not, it was a part of her journey.”

White also expressed admiration for Turner’s life story, portraying the ultimate narrative of triumph over adversity, shattering barriers, and persevering through pain.

“Tina’s actions were never calculated,” she emphasized. “She simply lived her life to the fullest. Her life was incredibly rich. She refused to let her circumstances confine her to Nutbush or keep her tied to Ike any longer than necessary. It was a journey spanning over 50 years for her to emerge as an icon.”

Directed by Tony Award nominee Phyllida Lloyd, renowned for her work on films like “Mamma Mia!” and “The Iron Lady,” “Tina” showcases over 20 timeless classics, including hits like “Nutbush City Limits,” “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).” The enduring appeal of Turner’s music, especially among her dedicated fan base, continues to inspire the cast. Ari Groover and Zurin Villanueva notably share the lead role.

“There’s a certain magic when the curtain rises, revealing a woman standing before a staircase, and the audience erupts in applause even before she utters a word. That is true power,” White reflected. “Such power isn’t acquired overnight. Tina’s influence still resonates with us even after her physical presence has departed, which is truly remarkable. She transcends being just a name.”

Turner, a chart-topping artist and author of “I, Tina,” with over 100 million records sold, was honored with eight Grammys, the Kennedy Center Honors, and two Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, among numerous other accolades. She passed away on May 24, 2023, at the age of 83 in her Switzerland residence near Lake Zurich, leaving behind a legacy as a beacon of inspiration for generations of women.

“Tina paved the way for me to pursue my aspirations in my 50s,” White remarked. “She continues to inspire the young women I share the stage with, spanning ages from their 20s to their 50s. We even have a couple of 10-year-olds with us. It’s all about leaving a lasting legacy.”