Cher, Bette, Tina, Madonna Still Strutting Their Stuff

Turner: 'Force of Nature'

"Tina Turner is such a force of nature," said Tamara Conniff, Billboard's editorial director. "She is gorgeous, and the last tour she was literally onstage with dancers who were 20 years old and she out-danced them."

Turner's up-by-the-bootstraps background appeals to Leslie Fisher, 44, a marketing professional from Oakland, Calif. "She's a woman who struck out on her own and achieved success," she said. "I can relate to that being a black middle-aged, divorced, self-made woman.

"I also like that she can still be sexy and have great legs at her age, and there is a sense of strength and pride about her," said Fisher. "She's doin' it, is successful and doesn't make any excuses about it, but at the same time isn't arrogant about it either."

New Wave's Deborah (formerly Debbie of Blondie) Harry, now 62, continues to tour in the United States and abroad, and released a new album in 2006. Joan Jett, soon 50, still performs with her quarter-century-old band, the Blackhearts. Gibson recently modeled a signature guitar for the "Godmother of Punk," a first for a female artist, according to Jett's publicist Jenn Nuccio.

"A lot of the women in this school of performing had to work their asses off to get good," Conniff said. "They played in the clubs and were booed and told they were no good and made it through that kind of adversity."

They've also been good businesswomen. Take Dolly Parton, 62, who has parlayed her country singing career into a theme park and appearances on TV's "American Idol." Her latest album, "Backwoods Barbie," reached No. 2 on the country charts this year. Jett has her own Sirius radio show and is producing a documentary on her early years.

"Will the women of today have careers when they are 50?" Conniff asked. "It's pretty unlikely. We don't really have a good farm club to build strong stage performances. And [the younger artists] crash and burn."

"Queen of Pop" Madonna, who's approaching 50 and appears in a photo spread in May's Vanity Fair, is still churning out her own material, touring and showing off her well-sculpted biceps. Her Sticky and Sweet world tour kicks off in the United States in October, including three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden.

"I feel good about what I'm doing," she recently told ABC's "Nightline." "It's given me a feeling of accomplishment for living this long and to still be able to do what I want to do and feel as good as I do. It's a blessing."

These older rockers have "really strong self images," Conniff said. And many of their careers have been bouyed by a long-time gay following that has bolstered their success. "The gay community is strong on dance-club mixes and audience participation, and those men are very giving back."

But the staying power of these stars transcends any one fan group, said Frank Rizzo, arts editor for the Hartford Courant, who covered the rock scene in the 1970s and 1980s.

"The advent of rock 'n' roll changed everything," he said. "It connects across generations.

"Elvis paved the way, even when he was fat and bloaty. Rock 'n' roll is an American music form that is no longer a passing fad. It's intergenerational. Each has his own favorite, but these people are the classics."

'Big Money With Boys'

While the "big money is still with the boys," he said, the music industry has been kinder to older women than Hollywood has.

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