When she was 44, Tina Turner’s hit ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, became the #1 song, selling more than 200 million records.
Later she remembered almost rejecting it as it fitted more into the pop genre than her typical Rock ‘n’ Roll or R & B music, even calling it ‘terrible’ in the 2021 HBO Documentary, Tina.
But two years later, she would actually meet a man, Erwin Bach, who would fit the opposite of her second stanza to the song…
What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion?
What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?
As the world celebrates the departed Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, besides her abusive past that she deliberately yanked herself out of, what comes to mind is the power of true unconditional love and resilience in dealing with multiple illnesses from a stroke, intestinal cancer to a kidney transplant made possible by a kidney donated by Erwin.
Tina showed the world that there is actually a ‘Tina Turner & Erwin Bach’ kind of Love…, her success post-the abusive Ike Turner in the pre-Erwin Bach - Tina Turner and since Erwin Bach - Tina Turner – two worlds that have barely any similarity. Her post-Ike Turner is thanks to letting the past negativity not define her future positivity, a mental deliberation to find purpose.
In an interview on Oprah’s Next Chapter nine years ago, Tina expressed that in her relationship with Erwin, she had reached her ‘Nirvana’.
She told Oprah: I found happiness for myself and I think it’s because I desire nothing…. First, it’s a journey you’re born, you go through the journey and then you lead the journey now.
How you manage the journey it’s very, very important. I stayed on track, I stayed on course.. Why I stayed on course I had a wish, my wish was to arrive here where I am today in this frame of mind and this physique and this healthiness and it’s a happiness that I never knew, that’s what happened…”
And even her wedding to Erwin after refusing two proposals, scared it might bring an end to her happiness, was magical. In an exclusive with Hello magazine in 2013 after her wedding, Tina said: “I’d been working on it from January, right up until the very day, and it was everything I wanted it to be, nothing went wrong, it was completely magical, and, aside from that, God gave us the most beautiful moon, which bathed the garden in this incredible light, as it shone in a clear, clear sky. That, for me, was a highlight – everyone was in awe. We could not have asked for more.”
Besides reading and watching as much as I could on the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the past several decades, watching Tina, HBO’s Documentary and two specific TV shows in the past decade portray Tina’s determination not to be defined by a failed past. About three years ago, a CBS News interview with Oprah’s close friend, Gayle King soon after her memoir, ‘My Love Story’ was published narrates a love story that feels like they are chapters out of some of Danielle Steel’s romantic novels or for those of my age for who ‘Mills & Boon’ novels were the ‘must read’.
Tina’s 37 years with Erwin – 10 of those as a married couple – is a lesson in satisfaction at every step of the way, even in an eventuality of death.
Tina explained to Gayle that despite her ill health, losing her two biological sons, Craig in 2018 to suicide and Ronnie in December 2022 to cancer, she has had a good life and everything she would ever want in life, despite finding success later in life.
But even in such happiness, doubts sometimes got the better of her. Despite 30 years of friendship, stubborn Tina still turned down two proposals from Erwin for marriage before finally accepting in 2013.
Showing his commitment to Tina’s well-being, Erwin confessed to Oprah during the earlier mentioned interview that he did not even read Tina’s My Love Story because he did not want to read about the painful past of someone he loved: “I didn’t read the book mm-hmm…and read the past of a person you love when this comes up so I always think that Tina one day will erase this we set this you want it to be done yeah I think that our relationship is now almost 30 years old yeah and I think that our relationship is almost longer in Tina’s present than the previous relationship - so I think it’s a time to close the book, and close the chapter…” And close the chapter she did as she married the love of her life on 21 July 2013 at their Château Algonquin home off the shore of Lake Zurich in Küsnacht, Switzerland.
What lessons can people in abusive relationships learn from Tina today?
Abuse in relationships has a way of numbing the fighting spirit but worldwide, abused persons learn from each other in dealing with similar situations, be it male or female victims.
While it affects people differently, the resolve and the courage to fight the scourge is also varied. For starters, Tina provides lessons in ‘having no money’ to survive beyond the relationship or staying in an abusive relationship ‘for the sake of the children’, something common with many victims of abuse.
When Tina left her marriage, she had only 36 cents (N$7) and Mobil Credit Card to her name. She had to hide in trash cans before running off to the Ramada Inn begging for a room.
There is something about domestic violence now known as ‘Gender-Based Violence’ that does not change – the violence, the intimidation, the denial of your basic rights as an individual – no matter what you do.
Tina’s story resonated with a story I wrote and was published on 22 August 1999 entitled Union Made in Hell. That was to later co-win the 2000 CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Award. This was the lead: “A tooth knocked out in a fit of anger: a leg broken in a vicious attack, a life snuffed out amid screams of terror in the dead of night. The all too familiar landscape of domestic violence in Kenya is dotted with tales of woe; with teeming numbers of maimed and destitute victims; with wounded hearts crying in shame. We are still counting the dead; for there is a victim succumbing to a fatal blow every single day.”
Union Made in Hell was a story about four well-known women in leadership in Kenya but few knew they were also survivors of domestic violence.
But I single out one who, when she narrated her story, Tina’s story with Ike rang a bell: Mrs Anne Ngángá – at the time, the principal of Olympic Primary School situated in one of, if not the largest, informal settlements in Africa, Kibera.
Her school had been among the top performers nationally in an exam called Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) that took place at the end of Grade 8 before one joined Secondary School in Grade 9 (known as Form 1 in Kenya). But few knew what she had gone through to get to where she was.
When Mrs Ngángá left her marriage of 10 years, she had only Ksh20 (N$3) in her pocket and left her four children behind. She was earning Ksh200 (N$30) because she had taken a large loan to buy the family land but even that was not enough for her husband who had told her no one would dare look at her worn-out looks from the marriage.
She advised that who will take care of the children left behind should not arise. “I left my four children there because I did not have a home to take them to. Three years later, they followed me to my little shack.” Much later, she was able to send two to the US for studies and the two later paid for the other two to study in the US too.
Whereas at the time Tina broke the silence on her perpetrator she had no idea how much it would influence many battered women and men worldwide to take action.
Today, her legacy will be finding a purpose, focusing on self and having the determination to move on from physical, mental and verbal abuse of someone she loved to a transformed life because she took matters into her hands and turned to a step to end the violence.
How does she want to be remembered? Tina said in a past interview: “As the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. As a woman who showed other women that is it okay to strive for success on their own terms”.
In her interview with Oprah mentioned earlier she said: “I endured hardship all the way, if we stay on course, we stay focused, never smoking, never drinking, never doing drugs – my legacy is that I stayed on course from the beginning to the end because I believe in something inside of me that told me that it can get better. So, my legacy is a person that strived for wanting it better and got it…” Fare thee Well Tina.