​Jewels for the Queen: Tina Turner’s Lifetime of Grammy Gold

As the Recording Academy prepares to honor Tina Turner with a 2018 "Lifetime Achievement Award", PopMatters celebrates the Queen of Rock's legacy of golden gramophones.

It’s rare for one queen to applaud another, yet Tina Turner has always held a certain preeminence among music royalty. “You got to give the woman her props,” Donna Summer declared in a 2003 interview. “Tina Turner is an example of what rock ‘n’ roll music basically is – fighting through it. She hung in there through the thick and thin of it” (Wikane).

The Queen of Rock and the Queen of Disco share more in common than their respective crowns might otherwise suggest. Turner and Summer are the
only female artists to garner concurrent Grammy nominations for pop, rock, and R&B vocal performances in a given year. In both instances, each artist was also nominated for “Album of the Year”, reflecting a cohesive vision in their work that transcended musical genres.

However, Tina Turner’s Grammy triumphs are particularly exceptional. Though critics raved about the singer’s live shows, the music industry had all but foresworn her as a recording artist before
Private Dancer (1984). Selling more than five million units in the U.S. alone, the album resurrected Turner’s career and established her as a force in contemporary pop music, independent of her 16 years with Ike Turner. Upon winning “Record of the Year” for “What’s Love Got to Do With It” in February 1985, she exclaimed, “We’re looking forward to more of these.” Over the next three decades, “more of these” is exactly what Turner got.

Turner’s eight Grammy Awards and three Grammy Hall of Fame inductions span a wide range of material. Hits like “Proud Mary” and “Better Be Good to Me” have won the golden gramophone, but so have album cuts like “Back Where You Started”, as well as Turner’s recording of “Edith and the Kingpin” for Herbie Hancock’s
River: The Joni Letters (2007). Nearly 20 additional Grammy nominations map a fascinating overview of Turner’s career, from her mid-’70s country album to her tour stop in Amsterdam for Wildest Dreams (1996).

Following the March premiere of
TINA — The Tina Turner Musical at London’s Aldwych Theatre, the Recording Academy will honor Turner with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” later this summer. PopMatters joins the festivities by retracing Turner’s Grammy wins and nominations over the last six decades. To borrow a phrase from “Proud Mary,” we’re gonna do this nice … and easy.

The Early Years

Tina Turner’s history with the Recording Academy dates back to the very beginning of her career. In May 1962, just two years after Ike & Tina Turner released their debut single “A Fool in Love” (1960), the duo scored their first Grammy nomination for “Best Rock ‘N’ Roll Recording” with “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (1961). Reaching number fourteen on the Hot 100, it became the biggest single of Ike & Tina Turner’s tenure on Sue Records. In fact, Sue issued “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” on no less than four albums,
Dynamite! (1962), It’s Gonna Work Out Fine (1963), The Greatest Hits of Ike & Tina Turner (1965), and an instrumental version on Dance with Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings of Rhythm (1962).

The Recording Academy first recognized Turner as a solo vocalist when they nominated her work on Ike & Tina Turner’s second Blue Thumb album
The Hunter (1969) for “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female”. However, even as the duo dutifully promoted the album, including a memorable rendition of “Bold Soul Sister” on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1970, another song had since become the showstopper of their concerts, “Proud Mary”.

Within months of Creedence Clearwater Revival introducing “Proud Mary” on
Bayou Country (1969), Phil Spector remodeled John Fogerty’s “riverboat queen” for the Checkmates, Ltd. on Love Is All We Have to Give (1969). Ike & Tina Turner embellished the template of Spector’s production on Workin’ Together (1970). The duo’s second set for Liberty featured what became some of their most indelible recordings, including “Get Back”, “Ooh Poo Pah Do”, and “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter”, but it was “Proud Mary” that propelled the album into orbit with combustible horn lines, the Ikettes’ breathless, call-and-response vocals, and a simmering spoken word prelude where Turner teased, We’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy, but then we’re gonna do the finish … rough.

Shortly after “Proud Mary” bowed on the Hot 100, where it later peaked at number four, Ike & Tina Turner guested on German music program
Beat-Club in February 1971. The singer faithfully reproduced her “nice and easy” intro to “Proud Mary”, a coy smile and glint in her eyes anticipating the song’s eruption of hot molten rock and soul. No other act could equal the feat of Turner and the Ikettes (Esther Jones, Vera Hamilton, and Jean Brown) spinning in time and singing in tune.

The following March, Ike & Tina Turner faced considerable competition in the category for “Best Rhythm & Blues Performance, Duo or Group, Vocal or Instrumental”. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway (“You’ve Got a Friend”), Isaac Hayes (“Theme from
Shaft“), Gladys Knight & the Pips (“If I Were Your Woman”), and the Staple Singers (“Respect Yourself’) were strong contenders, but “Proud Mary” surpassed them all. Ten years after their first nomination, Ike & Tina Turner finally got the Grammy.

Only two weeks before the premiere of
Tommy (1975), which featured Turner’s scene-stealing role as the “Acid Queen”, the singer celebrated another Grammy nomination. Her first solo album Tina Turns the Country On! (1974) shared the category for “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female” with efforts by Aretha Franklin, Shirley Brown, Thelma Houston, Millie Jackson, Etta James, and Ann Peebles, while Ike & Tina Turner’s The Gospel According to Ike & Tina (1974) also earned a nomination for “Best Soul Gospel Performance”.

An entire decade would pass before Turner’s next round on the ballot. In the meantime, she charted a solo path that gradually culminated in one of the most dramatic comebacks ever witnessed in popular music.
Acid Queen (1975) and Rough (1978) bookended her newfound independence after leaving Ike Turner in 1976. Love Explosion (1979) and Australian single “Are You Breaking My Heart” (1980) capped the ’70s with a nod towards disco before manager Roger Davies completely revamped Turner’s career, ultimately taking her from Vegas casinos and supper clubs to sports arenas across the globe. Her high-octane residency at the Ritz in New York generated industry buzz and prompted marquee acts like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart to invite the singer on tour throughout 1981.

Turner’s re-emergence in the public eye continued when she co-presented “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male” with James Brown at the Grammy Awards in February 1982. Later that year, she covered Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” and the Sherbs’ “Crazy in the Night” on the
Summer Lovers (1982) soundtrack, and joined British Electric Foundation (B.E.F.) producers Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh in the studio to record the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” for Music of Quality and Distinction (1982). B.E.F.’s brooding, synth-based production enveloped Turner in a musically progressive milieu. She even made history as one of the first black artists to appear on MTV when the burgeoning network added “Ball of Confusion” to its programming schedule.

Amid Turner’s one-off projects, A&R producer John Carter signed the singer to Capitol Records, beginning a two-year period where she cut several tracks geared more towards rock, including “Total Control” by the Motels and “When I Was Young” by the Animals. However, Martyn Ware and Greg Walsh’s recasting of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” (1983) as stylish, sophisticated dance-pop singlehandedly rekindled Turner’s recording career. The song topped the U.S. dance chart in March 1984 after soaring to number six in the UK, fueled by the singer’s two appearances on
The Tube.

Capitol executives, who’d threatened to drop Turner from the roster only a year before, suddenly green-lit an album to capitalize on the success of “Let’s Stay Together”. Working with several London-based production teams, Turner completed
Private Dancer in a matter of weeks. Fixx songwriters Jamie West-Oram and Jeanette Obstoj collaborated with producer Rupert Hine on “I Might Have Been Queen”, a song expressly tailored for Turner that furnished the album’s opening statement. Electro-pop versions of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (Ann Peebles) and “1984” (David Bowie), plus a blistering take on Paul Brady’s “Steel Claw”, further reflected Turner’s strength as a vocalist and consummate song stylist.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” put the period on
Private Dancer. Though Terry Britten and Graham Lyle hadn’t written the song for Turner, it became a vehicle for one of the most nuanced performances she’d ever record. Britten reworked the tune to complement the rough-hewn textures of the singer’s voice. Steeped in atmosphere with an alluring lead vocal, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” commanded the airwaves upon its release in May 1984. Four months later, it crowned the top spot on the Hot 100 for three weeks and gave Turner her first gold single as a solo artist.

The Comeback

At the 27th Annual Grammy Awards in February 1985, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was nominated for three awards … and won all of them, including Britten and Lyle’s nod for “Song of the Year”. An audience of music legends and luminaries greeted Turner with standing ovations as she collected awards for “Record of the Year” and “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female”. Through sheer talent, confidence, and charisma, her performance of “What’s Love Got to Do With It” on the telecast created a “Grammy Moment” using only a spotlight and a microphone.

Private Dancer earned a coveted nomination for “Album of the Year”, parallel to the title track’s ascent in the Top Ten, and Turner’s one-take recording of “Let’s Stay Together” landed a nomination for “Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female”, the singer’s sassy interpretation of “Better Be Good to Me” prevailed in the “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female” category. Originally recorded by Spider, Turner’s rendition featured members of the Fixx, who helped craft a thunderous declaration of independence that gave Turner a Top Five hit in the autumn of 1984.

Turner’s three Grammy wins for
Private Dancer were just a few of the honors she won throughout 1985, beginning with two American Music Awards in January and rounding out the year with an MTV Video Music Award for “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. Cover stories for Rolling Stone, People, LIFE, Ebony, US, JET, and several other magazines profiled both her comeback and starring role as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Her recording of “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” shot to number two within weeks of her sizzling duet with Mick Jagger at Live Aid in July 1985.

A year after her Grammy victory, Turner received another five nominations in February 1986. The VHS compilation of Turner’s four videos from
Private Dancer, which were still in heavy rotation on MTV, joined the nominees for “Best Music Video, Short Form”. Her March ’85 tour stop at Birmingham’s N.E.C. in the U.K. was filmed for Tina Live: Private Dancer Tour (1985), a contender for “Best Music Video, Long Form”. Turner’s duet with Bryan Adams on “It’s Only Love” from the Birmingham show would subsequently win an MTV Video Music Award for “Best Stage Performance,” but it was the studio version off Adams’ Reckless (1984) album that spawned a Grammy nomination for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal”.

Elsewhere, Turner’s musical contributions to
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome appeared in two solo categories. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” scored a nomination for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female” alongside recordings by Whitney Houston, Madonna, Pat Benatar, and Linda Ronstadt. That same year, Turner, Nona Hendryx, and Melba Moore represented the first and only time in Grammy history that black artists outnumbered white artists in the “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female” category — or any other rock category, for that matter. Ultimately, Turner won the rock prize for “One of the Living”, the opening theme to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, whose sense of foreboding summoned a particularly theatrical performance from the singer.

Peaking at #15 on the Hot 100 during the autumn of 1985, “One of the Living” marked Turner’s seventh Top 40 hit since returning to the charts with “Let’s Stay Together”. Nearly a year would pass before she released another single. When “Typical Male” premiered in August 1986, it gave listeners the first glimpse of
Break Every Rule (1986), Turner’s follow-up to Private Dancer. The album featured key songwriters and producers from her commercial breakthrough, bringing a cohesiveness to material by David Bowie (“Girls”), Mark Knopfler (“Overnight Sensation”), Paul Brady (“Paradise Is Here”), and several songs penned by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle.

“Back Where You Started” rocked harder than any other track on
Break Every Rule. Co-written and co-produced by Bryan Adams, it accentuated the guttural textures of Turner’s voice to rousing effect. In February 1987, the singer won her third consecutive Grammy for “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female” when “Back Where You Started” conquered solid entries by Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Benatar, and Cyndi Lauper. “Typical Male” also secured her nomination in the pop vocal category, a tight race between Turner, Lauper, Madonna, Dionne Warwick, and Barbra Streisand.

From March 1987 through March 1988, Turner embarked on a year-long tour that broke box office records around the world. Her appearance at Maracanã Stadium in Rio attracted more than 180,000 spectators and set a new record for concert attendance in the
Guinness Book of Records. During the last month of the tour, she joined acts like Bruce Springsteen and Joe Cocker in the “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo” category for her performance of “Better Be Good to Me” on The Prince’s Trust Tenth Anniversary Birthday Party (1987) album, recorded almost two years earlier in June 1986.

Capitol Records compiled highlights from Turner’s
Private Dancer and Break Every Rule tours on Tina Live in Europe (1988). The lavish two-record set captured the unbridled energy of her shows, including duets with David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and Bryan Adams, plus choice covers of Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke songs from her HBO special filmed at Camden Palace in London. Most significantly, the album yielded another Grammy honor when Turner won “Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female” in February 1989 over nominees like Melissa Etheridge and Sinead O’Connor.

Throughout the ’90s, Turner was nominated for several more Grammy Awards in different categories. Her trio of rock vocal nominations included her third studio set on Capitol
Foreign Affair (1989), the blues-inflected “Steamy Windows”, and a new version of “The Bitch Is Back” from Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin (1991), which she’d first recorded thirteen years earlier on Rough. “I Don’t Wanna Fight”, the Top Ten theme to Touchstone’s biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), brought Turner back to the pop vocal category while Live in Amsterdam: Wildest Dreams Tour (1997) won a nomination for “Best Long Form Music Video”. She also made a rare appearance at the Grammy ceremony in 1993, presenting “Record of the Year” to Eric Clapton and Russ Titelman.

Tina Turner closed the decade with the Recording Academy’s induction of “River Deep-Mountain High” (1966) into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Phil Spector conceived the song as a showcase for Turner, whose voice towered above the producer’s signature “Wall of Sound”. It was ostensibly her first solo session since Ike Turner didn’t participate in the actual recording of the song. Though “River Deep-Mountain High” merely dented the Hot 100, it shot to number three in the UK where Ike & Tina Turner were invited to open for the Rolling Stones on their 1966 tour and appear on the groundbreaking music program
Ready Steady Go!

In 2003, Ike & Tina Turner’s recording of “Proud Mary” joined “River Deep-Mountain High” in the Grammy Hall of Fame. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” followed suit in 2012, underscoring the timeless appeal of a song synonymous with Turner’s commercial and creative regeneration. In between, Turner recorded “Edith and the Kingpin” for Herbie Hancock’s homage to Joni Mitchell,
River: The Joni Letters. Her performance evidenced a finesse with one of Mitchell’s gems from The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). When River won “Album of the Year” in February 2008, Turner shared the award with Hancock and other artists who participated in the project, including Mitchell herself.

On the very same telecast, Turner performed “Proud Mary” with Beyoncé in honor of the Grammy Awards’ 50th anniversary. In a sense, Beyoncé’s introduction of Turner as “the Queen” brought her full circle: from singing “I Might Have Been Queen” to fully personifying that particular distinction. Ten years later, as the Recording Academy prepares to fête her with a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, Tina Turner remains the most royal of music legends.