Tina Turner's story of resilience, courage and rock 'n' roll comes to Broadway

Turner's story of perseverance and triumph wis portrayed in "Tina."

ByAshley Louszko and Allie Yang
November 14, 2019, 6:42 PM

Music icon Tina Turner says "the energy of rock and roll" is the very core of who she is.

"It’s naughty, it’s fun, it’s movement and that’s what I like and that’s what I am," the singer told 20/20 in 1982.

Turner has sold more than 200 million albums over her career, has won eight Grammys and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

“There aren’t that many women in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, let alone black women,” journalist Danyel Smith told “Nightline.”

Now, Turner’s infamous life blossoms on Broadway in a self-titled musical called “Tina.”

The show’s playwright, Katori Hall, says audiences may think they know her story -- but “you don’t know it like this.”

“To be in the room with violence, to be in the room with triumph, I think that’s the thing that really moves audiences every night,” Hall said.

“Tina” starts as a Broadway show and transforms into a full-on rock concert.

Tina Turner performs on stage with Ike & Tina Turner in 1972 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Jorgen Angel/Redferns/Getty Images

It’s a spiritual experience through Turner’s life story -- from her childhood in Tennessee to the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband Ike Turner, and then, finally, her courage to leave him and pursue solo stardom.

“She had a lot of trepidation about telling her story in a musical format,” Hall said of Turner. “‘How are audiences going to take seeing someone being thrown to the floor?’ and I said, ‘It’s okay for the audience to be uncomfortable. They have to see what you went through so they can see how resilient you are.’”

Adrienne Warren, who plays Turner in the musical, says Turner is “perseverance personified.”

“I think people are now becoming more and more empowered to take control of their narratives,” Warren said. “I think Tina is one of the, you know, prime examples of that.”

“When you actually get to know the details, the nuances, and about what she went through, you just cannot believe that someone has gone through that many things and has come out on the other side with light and love,” Warren added.

“When you actually get to know the details, the nuances, and about what she went through, you just cannot believe that someone has gone through that many things and has come out on the other side with light and love,” Adrienne Warren said.

Turner’s story starts in a small town in Tennessee called Nutbush. Turner was born there in 1939 as Anna Mae Bullock.

“My father was a sharecropper and actually when I grew up, I worked in the fields picking cotton and I always dreamed of being an actress while in the fields,” Turner told ABC News in 1982. “I hated that. I didn’t like it at all!”

In the mid-1950s, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she met Ike Turner.

“When she watched him play guitar she kind of went into a trance,” ABC News contributor Chris Connolly said. “What she yearned to do was to get a chance to sing with that man because she knew she had a great voice.”

In 1960, she sang “A Fool in Love,” a song that was sold to Sue Records and hit national pop music charts.

“Ike Turner turned to Ana Bullock and said, ‘I’m going to keep all the money and you are going to be known as Tina Turner,’” Connolly said. Realizing what she could do for his career, Ike Turner married her.

Tina Turner arrives in London with her husband Ike Turner in 1972.
Hulton Deutsch/Corbis via Getty Images

Turner told ABC News in 1982 that he was in “absolute” control.

“I did as I was told,” she said. “It’s almost as if you can put yourself in the position of always being told, and it just doesn’t feel good all the time to be under someone’s hand.”

Daniel J. Watts, who plays Ike Turner in “Tina,” says he was “doomed from the beginning.”

“Growing up in the Confederate south, he saw his father get beat nearly to death by a white mob and succumb to those injuries later,” Watts said. “So he developed this pattern of ‘this is the world.’ When he was able to enact power, he did full-fledged, and unfortunately Tina caught the brunt of it.”

Ike Turner sent his wife to the emergency room multiple times during their 16-year marriage.

“When he was bitter, he was just real awful and real difficult to get along with,” Turner said. “By being a sort of physically violent man, you never knew when you were going to get it. My life with Ike was maybe one that many are familiar with -- their husbands... practice brutality.”

Years later, audiences painfully watched the extent of his abuse play out in the film “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.

Turner told ABC News she stayed in the marriage because she “felt responsible.”

“I felt that I couldn’t leave because too many things would be destroyed,” she said. “I stayed because I cared. And when the time actually arrived I had no longer cared because I was living death anyway.”

Turner was in so much pain, she tried to take her own life one night in the 1960s.

“I simply couldn't take any more and swallowed 50 sleeping pills,” she wrote in her memoir “My Love Story.”

A decade later, she finally found the courage to leave Ike Turner, bringing massive and much-needed attention to domestic abuse.

“She is at the forefront of the #MeToo movement even though her #MeToo was a long time ago,” Hall said.

Katori Hall is the playwright behind "Tina" on Broadway.

When their divorce was finalized in 1978, she was penniless.

“He owned all the publishing rights and she couldn’t sing the songs that they would sing in the Ike and Tina Turner revue,” Hall explained.

“No promoters would book me because they say, ‘Well it’s not Ike and Tina. She doesn’t have a record. There’s nothing I can promote,’” Turner said of her career following the divorce.

“She had to step out, but she did scream for that name,” Hall said. “So she kept the name. It might be Turner, but it's Tina. Tina Turner, that's me. That's mine.”

Her perseverance gave way to a hugely successful, international rock 'n' roll solo career. In 1984, she came out with one of her most popular singles, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”

“If you heard that story today -- a black woman in her 40s, trying to make it in the music industry, in rock and roll, you're like, ‘I don't really know about that,’ today -- let alone when she did it,” Warren said of the star.

Adrienne Warren, who plays Turner in the musical, says Turner is “perseverance personified.”

“It’s just persistence,” Turner said in 1982. “If you believe in yourself and you’re good at what you do and you know that -- you already have no doubts -- the thought alone and believing it will make it happen for you.”

A new generation of listeners found themselves with Turner and were empowered by her music.

Smith said, “I cannot overstate how much permission she gave women. Black women definitely, but women period.”

The icon is now part of the creative team behind “Tina” on Broadway.

Tina Turner and Adrienne Warren speak during "Tina - The Tina Turner Musical" opening night at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Nov. 7, 2019, in New York.
John Lamparski/Getty Images

When asked what she originally thought about the idea, she told the show’s director, “This ... is going to be a little difficult.”

“I don’t need a musical! I don’t need another show! But I get cards and letters with what people think about me and the legacy I led,” she said. “People say I gave them hope. It means and meant so much to people. I have to pass it on.”

Thanks to the show, a whole new generation of audiences will know her story.

Oprah Winfrey and Tina Turner arrive at the opening night of "Tina - The Tina Turner Musical," Nov. 7, 2019, in New York City.
Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

On opening night last week in New York, Turner, who will turn 80 this year, took the stage.

“This musical is my life but it’s like poison that turned into medicine. I can never be as happy as I am now,” she told the crowd.