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Rock and Roll Legend Ike Turner Dies

One of the founding fathers of rock and roll, Ike Turner, died Wednesday December 12 at his home near San Diego, California. He was 76. The cause of death was unknown. While an architect of the modern rock sound, he was also notorious for his abusive relationship with his wife, Tina. VOA's Ray McDonald has more.

Mention Ike's name, and most music fans will likely peg him as the drug-addicted, abusive husband of superstar singer Tina Turner.

Laurence Fishburne earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Ike in the hit 1994 film, What's Love Got To Do With It. While Ike disputed those claims, they have overshadowed his real contributions to the birth and development of rock and roll.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Ike Turner was eight years old when he began doing odd jobs at a local radio station. He carried amplifiers for blues guitarist Robert Nighthawk while learning boogie-woogie piano from his idol, Pinetop Perkins.

In the late 1940s, Ike formed his own group, The Kings of Rhythm. In 1951, he recorded "Rocket 88," which some critics call the first true rock and roll record.

While working with the Kings of Rhythm in the St. Louis area, Ike Turner also became a session musician and talent scout for Sun Records. He helped such later stars as Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Otis Rush sign contracts.

In the late-1950s, Ike hired a young singer from Tennessee named Anna Mae Bullock. Changing her name to Tina, after the popular action heroine "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle," Ike featured her in his popular soul review. After enjoying a hit single in 1960 with "A Fool In Love," the pair wed in Mexico, and embarked upon a stormy 16-year union.

Throughout the 1960s and early-70s, Ike and Tina were one of the most exciting and influential acts in rock. They toured with the Rolling Stones, and in 1971 performed in Africa.

Shadowing their success, however, was Ike's treatment of Tina. Acting as the group's manager and musical director, he allegedly treated his wife in a ruthless manner. In her 1986 autobiography I, Tina, she wrote that he regularly isolated and abused her, often in the form of vicious beatings.

By the mid-1970s, Ike Turner was in the grip of a cocaine habit. In July, 1976, Tina fled Ike, reportedly carrying only 36 cents. She declined to comment on his death.

In 1989, Ike went to prison on drug charges, and was still behind bars when he and Tina were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He reportedly maintained sobriety after leaving prison in 1993, and in 2001 published an autobiography, Takin' Back My Name. In it, he admitted to physically abusing Tina, but denied beating her.

He also continued to perform with the Kings of Rhythm, and in 2007 won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.