St. Louisans celebrate the life, courage and legacy of Tina Turner, one of their own
For more than six decades, Robbie Montgomery has considered Tina Turner a sister. So when the international superstar died Wednesday, for Montgomery, it was like losing a member of her family.
In the 1960s, they recorded music that would influence generations of musicians. Back then, Montgomery was a member of the Ikettes, the backup singers who recorded with Ike and Tina Turner.
“We had a very close relationship during those days,” Montgomery said. “We consoled each other, we heard each other’s story, we cried on each other’s shoulder, we wore each other’s clothes.”
Montgomery and countless other St. Louisans on Wednesday joined people around the world who celebrated Turner and her career after the queen of rock 'n' roll died at her home in Switzerland.
"Long before there was Beyoncé, there was Tina,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement. “Tina was musical royalty, a trailblazer, and a force to be reckoned with — no matter the odds or obstacles in her way. She cemented St. Louis’ place in rock and roll history, and we cherish her legacy.”
Turner grew up in Tennessee but moved to St. Louis when she was a teenager. She attended Sumner High School and started performing at venues in East St. Louis. She recorded the lead vocals for Ike Turner’s song, “A Fool in Love,” in 1960 after singer Art Lassiter didn’t show up to the recording session.
“She knew the lead part so Ike let her go in and put the lead and we did the background,” Montgomery recalled. “The song hit, and we packed up and left St. Louis.”
After forming the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in the early '60s, the duo released the song as a debut single, then “River Deep — Mountain High” and their rendition of “Proud Mary.”
For more than a decade, Ike and Tina Turner delivered hits that fused R&B with rock 'n' roll. By 1965, the duo appealed to Black and white audiences, said Bernie Hayes, executive director emeritus of the National Blues Museum.
Turner's stage presence was exuberant and high octane. Besides her powerful singing, she became known for physicality onstage, with performances that included high kicks and high-energy dancing.
“Her impact on the music industry, there are no words to describe that,” said Hayes, who was a DJ for KATZ 100.3 FM when he met Tina Turner. “People still go onstage and sing, 'Rolling on the river,' trying to imitate the way Tina did it. She was a legend.”
But when Turner wasn’t onstage, she was often quiet and introverted, Hayes said.
When Tina and Ike Turner divorced in 1976, the singer described her ex-husband as physically and emotionally abusive and controlling.
In the 1980s, Turner reinvented herself and reached new heights with her fifth studio album, “Private Dancer.” The album, which also included "What's Love Got to Do With It," won four Grammys.
On Wednesday, Turner’s fans gathered at her star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame to pay tribute to the singer. Some brought flowers.
“She’s an international rock star,” said Jeanne Braddock, who lives in Brentwood. “She just made really good music, excellent music.”
Many remembered her extensive career and how she was an ambassador for St. Louis.
“She just really, truly represents what you can do with yourself as a St. Louis musician,” said Mat Wilson, guitarist and vocalist for the Rum Drum Ramblers. “She’s just been an inspiration to so many different people for so many different reasons.”
Turner’s accolades include 12 Grammys. She was a two-time inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a Kennedy Center honoree. She also was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But her enduring legacy will be of the boundaries she pushed in exuding her sexuality, said Laka, a St. Louis singer who performed a Turner tribute concert earlier this month.
“In the '60s, where sexiness was sort of shunned a little bit more than it is now, she was sexy then and she pushed the envelope,” Laka said. “It was so courageous for her to do that and to express her femininity and also to be so strong.”
Turner moved to Switzerland in the 1990s and retired in 2009 after embarking on a farewell tour. Hayes said she was unique.
“If you want to know who Tina Turner was, she’s a genre in herself,” Hayes said. “She’s not rock, she’s not soul, she’s not blues, she’s not crossover, she’s Tina Turner.”