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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Mamie Hassell
In the mid-1940s, you would have found young Anna Mae Bullock in class at Flagg Grove School. This was an all-Black, one-room schoolhouse in Nutbush, Tennessee. Nutbush is in West Tennessee. It is one hour from Memphis. During that time, most folks in West Tennessee were farmers, and so was Anna Mae’s family. Her parents, Floyd and Zelma Bullock, were sharecroppers. Sharecroppers rented small plots of land from a property owner and grew crops on it, but each year they had to share some crops with the property owner who they rented from. Sharecropping was common for Black families in the South after slavery had ended. Anna Mae’s family was no different.
Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School. Photo Courtesy of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center.
Unfortunately, her parents split up when Anna Mae was 11 years old. Her mom left Anna Mae and her sister Alline with her father and moved away. Floyd had a hard time being a single dad and left his daughters in the care of their grandmother in Nutbush. Despite this, Anna Mae stayed positive. She and Alline made the best of living with their grandmother, but she passed away in the 1950s. With no one to care for her, Anna Mae followed Alline and moved away from Tennessee. They moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to meet back up with her mother after years apart.
Tina (Left) and bandmate Ann Thomas (Right) perform in Memphis, TN. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Anna Mae was just a teenager, and the big city of St. Louis dazzled her. Her favorite thing to do was go and hear live music performances! She had spent years singing. She was influenced by everything from the Mississippi Delta blues to gospel music. Her love of rhythm and blues grew, and she often visited Club Manhattan in St. Louis. Anna Mae’s experience there changed her life when she met Ike Turner and began playing with his band. They were called the Kings of Rhythm. Anna Mae was a superstar once she took to the stage! She used the stage name Tina, and later married Ike Turner. She was no longer Anna Mae from small-town Tennessee, she was officially, the iconic Tina Turner!
Tina and Ike Turner. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Tina’s marriage to Ike Turner was not healthy. He treated her very cruelly. It took some time, but Tina found the courage to leave Ike. Once she was free, she built herself up again. Tina had sons to care for and invested a lot into their lives. She had to balance being a superstar with being a mom, but she managed! Tina’s career took her all over the world. She experienced many new things. Being a Black performer in the South during the time of segregation was difficult. Tina preferred to play in large cities in the North or West. She loved playing in Europe, where the color of her skin did not hold her back like it did in America.
Tina Turner Concert Ticket. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
The popular music of Tina’s time was pop or rhythm and blues, but her music was rock and roll. Tina became known as the Queen of Rock and Roll around the world! Tina worked with and performed with several music artists like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Celine Dion, Beyonce, Sting, Eric Clapton, and Rod Stewart. Some of her number one hits include “Proud Mary”, “Nutbush City Limits”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, and “River Deep – Mountain High”. Her songs are full of emotion and that is what makes them so lovable.
Tina Turner Vinyl Album. Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Even after leaving Ike, Tina faced problems in her life. Despite them, she persisted. In the summer of 2018, Tina won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. It is one of the highest honors for singers. She credits her upbringing in Nutbush, Tennessee for teaching her how to remember what is good in her life and how to remain tough. From Tina’s humble childhood, to her rise to fame, her story truly makes us feel anything is possible, no matter what.
Sharecropping - To rent a small plot of land from a property owner and grow crops on it and share your harvest with the property owner each season.
Segregation - To set apart or divide groups of people. For example: segregating people based on the color of their skin.
Perform - To present to an audience. For example: to perform songs for fans at a concert.
Persist - To continue something even though it is hard. For example: to persist in math class even though you failed one math test.
What West Tennessee town did Tina Turner grow up in?
What was Tina’s name before she started performing?
What are some ways that growing up in the south might have affected Tina’s music?
Listen to Tina Turners songs. Is there anything in her songs that you can relate to? What was it?
Visit the Tina Turner Museum - https://www.westtnheritage.com/tina-turner-museum
Watch Tina Turner perform “River Deep Mountain High” -
Watch Beyoncé perform Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” -
Watch Tina Turner accept Grammy Achievement Award -
Mamie Hassell is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.