When Tina Turner, years before she became rock ‘n’ roll royalty, lent her iconic voice to Phil Spector’s “River Deep, Mountain High” in 1966, the single ranked at No. 3 on the UK charts. But, on U.S. Billboard charts that same year, it didn’t get higher than 88.
In the recent HBO documentary “Tina,” an archival clip of Ike Turner, who shares a credit for the song, explained that the song didn’t hold up in America because, during that time, “Black artists had to go Top 10 on the R&B charts before the top radio stations would touch it.” In the film, Ike added that the adventurous song, with its complex orchestration and lush, pop sound, was “too white for Black jockeys and too Black for white jockeys” in the U.S.
Dan Lindsay, one of the co-directors of the documentary, told the PBS NewsHour that Tina is a “massive, iconic performer — and even in America — but outside of America, Tina Turner is a megastar.”
That difference of adoration that Tina felt throughout her career, between U.S. and European audiences, reflected the “vestiges of Jim Crow” that were “still very much alive in the music industry,” said Tanisha Ford, a history professor at CUNY’s Graduate Center.
“While rock and roll is rooted in the Black experience and the Black musical tradition, the mainstream industry has racialized it as ‘white’ music,” Ford said. “So Tina Turner had much resistance when she wanted to position herself as a rock ‘n’ roll artist.”
In a 1997 interview with Larry King, Tina Turner said one reason she called Europe — specifically Switzerland — home was that she was hugely supported in Europe. When King told her that she was a superstar in America, Turner was quick to point out: “Not as big as Madonna. I’m as big as Madonna in Europe. I’m as big, in some places, as The Rolling Stones.”
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