By Janice Malone
BROWNSVILLE, TN — During this final week of Black History Month, the Tennessee Tribune salutes the undisputable Queen of Rock—Tennessee’s own Tina Turner. As the world knows, the hometown roots of this rock music legend began in the small-town areas of Nutbush and Brownsville Tennessee. Today at age 78, Ms. Tina has retired from her international touring schedule but she’s still creating projects for her legions of fans throughout the world. Next month the stage play musical ‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’ will make its world premiere at the Aldwych Theatre in London’s famed West End. Tina, spearheaded the writing team for the project, which includes Olivier Award-award winning playwright Katori Hall, who’s from Memphis, TN. Hall is also the Artistic Director of the Hattiloo Theatre in Memphis. Her play ‘The Mountaintop,’ was featured at the West End in 2010 and won the Olivier Award for Best New Play. Following its West End run, the play opened on Broadway in October 2011 to critical acclaim.
‘Tina: The Tina Turner Musical’ stage musical reveals the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race. One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Tina Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows have been seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. But long before Tina became a rock music icon, she was known as little Anna Mae Bullock, a sweet little girl with big bold dreams, who grew up in the lush and hilly region of Western Tennessee. Today, The Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School, is a museum sanctioned by Tina herself, stands in Brownsville, TN and is part of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center. The museum is a former one-room schoolhouse were a young Anna Mae Bullock was a former student. The quaint but beautiful building is now home to a collection of the Queen of Rock’s memorabilia, including costumes and gold records. Even her high school yearbook is included among the treasures. It’s a must-see visit for tourists who love Ms. Tina. (https://www.westtnheritage.com/flagggrove.html)
The Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School is the spot where two of Tina’s childhood friends, sisters Annie Bridges and Julie Taylor, recalled happy days and fond memories of what it was like to attend the Flagg Grove School and be playmates with Anna Mae Bullock. Annie and Julie’s aunt, Willette Beard, was everyone’s teacher in the one room school. The ladies sat in some old fashioned wooden desks from that era, as they happily reminisced about their days as students and friends with the future Tina Turner.
TRIBUNE: What do you ladies remember about Tina as a student and as your playmate little friend? MS. ANNIE: Well, I remember we all used to play a little game. We would just say a little funny stuff… And then we would leave from the playground and we’d ask each other things like, ‘What’s your boyfriend’s name?’ And I’d say, ‘My boyfriend is name Joe Sam Coleman,” and Tina said, “No, my boyfriend is Joe Sam Coleman, so you’ll have to find you another one,” And I would get so mad! (she laughs). We were all in the first and second grade back then…I thought he was cute because curly hair/ (she laughs)
TRIBUNE: What about you, Miss Julie? Ms. JULIE: I remember we would sit outside the school playing, just having fun. Tina would sometimes sneak outside the school. One day I went to the bathroom and saw Tina in the swinger swinging. She was swinging so high, until I said, ‘Tina if you keep swinging that high, somebody’s gonna see under your dress, girl.’ So Tina says: ‘If anybody sees more than what God gave me, then tell them to throw at brick at it.’ (she laughs) And by the time the class would end, Tina would be back in class, and the teacher would never know she had been outside.”
TRIBUNE: Was Tina a good student? What subjects did she like best? MS. ANNIE: I think she really liked reading. One day, I remember Tina saying. ‘I’ll teach y’all a song I learned when we were on vacation.’ I think she and her family went to Chicago or somewhere. So, Tina she got up there on the little stage here in the school house. She had on this cute little red and white plaid dress. She sang all these songs and did a little step like she was dancing. Then she kind of laughed and said, ‘Ha, ha…I made up that last song myself.’ So, I’m guessing that was probably the early beginnings of her writing her own songs.”
TRIBUNE: Ladies, I understand there’s a funny story to tell about this side door here in the one-room school house. Tell us about it. MS. ANNIE: Well, this door is one of the doors that our aunt Willette Beard, who was our teacher, used to send us out of. We would go down this little step, go out and get the switch that she was going to whip us with when some of us were bad in class. We all had to often go get a switch. Sometimes she would send Tina out that door too for a switch. And when she whipped Tina, she would be just doing this (she demonstrates how Tina would be jumping around). And then our aunt would tell her, “You better be still Anna Mae!” and of course she wouldn’t be still. I guess Tina wanted to say, ‘You better be good to me!’
MS. JULIE: We also used this door that lead to a small room where we would go to drink some water. Everybody had to have their own glass. We couldn’t drink behind each other from the same glass. And then outside of the little room, we would go out this door to go into the bathroom outside. The bathroom had a red and white circle made for us. If someone went out, then you had the red sign out, and when you come back in, you had to turn it on green. And that would let someone know the bathroom was occupied. So, the little sign had the colors that represented stop and go. It was very handy because we would watch the door all the time when people would go out. Aunt Willette had the sign hanging on the door with a string on it, and all you had to do was just turn it back and forth.
MS. ANNIE: And sometimes we’d be a little scared to go to the bathroom because there may be a snake or something in the toilet out there. That was one of my biggest fears.
TRIBUNE: Did you ever see a snake? MS. ANNIE: One time I did see a snake, but I didn’t see one in the bathroom toilet.
TRIBUNE: Ladies, before we close out, any final comments or something you’d like to say? MS. ANNIE: Well, we hope the Good Lord continues to give Tina good blessings because she deserves it all.
MS. JULIE: And I would just like to say that I wish Tina the best because we had a good time when we were all children. We used to play together, and we used to sing together, even though I wasn’t a good singer. We used to talk about a lot of different things. We just had a good time and I wish her nothing but the best.
FOOTNOTE: See the actual video footage of this interview with Annie and Julie on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thetennesseetribune/