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How to Develop Your Own Artistic Voice
How Tina Turner's journey inspires the artistic spirit
Several years back I was acting in a film in which one of my co-stars was an original band member of Ike and Tina Turner. Knowing the reported history of that fraught and abusive musical duo relationship, I asked that fellow actor about that time period. All the actor could do was shake their head in sadness about it all.
Fast forward to last year, I was privileged to attend the “Tina” musical on Broadway. It was one of the best shows I’d seen in the Big Apple. This closing-show clip doesn’t do justice to just how electric the show was in the audience. I mean, the creators brought you through such wildly emotional ups and downs over two hours that by the time you reached the conclusion, you felt you were really in the house with Tina.
Turner had a profound and positive impact on the music industry in several ways: iconic performances, vocal prowess, trailblazing success as a Black woman, reinvention and resurgence as she shifted her styles, massive influence on rock and pop, and a symbol of female empowerment and resilience.
Here’s Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney’s tribute about seeing her at London’s Wembley Arena in June 1987 —
I can’t say I remember what song Turner opened with (online research says “What You Get Is What You See”). But I never forgot the bizarre spectacle of two burly men carrying what was clearly an upright body wrapped in some kind of blanket, which they hoisted up the short flight of stairs and then unfurled in a single brisk movement.
Turner, who was pushing 50 at the time, sprang out of that cocoon like something jet-propelled and possessed, limbs energized as if by superhuman force, the signature lion mane of the time flying like a fiber-optic mood lamp in a tornado as she let loose that vocal growl to the roar of 12,500 worshipful fans.
While many of her songs reflected her life’s difficulties, Turner was always one to turn that experience into a message of moving forward. “If you’re going to be in the music business that long, why can’t you make a mark?” The emotional health and maturity in this interview are inspiring —
One key to her art’s impact is that she talks about how her “success started before her final success,” the packed stadiums. In other words, in order for things to come together for her after breaking away from Ike, she had to reorient herself to confidence in her own talent, get her house in order with a place to live, her children taken care of, a manager, and hiring the right musical team. And then she could follow the dream of what she knew deep inside that she had: and that was her singing and ability to perform.
Turner is a great example of an artist who found success through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. She faced many challenges in her early life, but she never gave up on her dream of becoming a singer. In looking at videos of her performances, it might be easy to think that her voice and moves came naturally. And yes, she has within her a voice, a personality, a fighting spirit — all of which were there for her to build on. But the reality is that she practiced and developed her talent and persona for many, many years. For example —
"I practiced singing and dancing for hours every day. I even practiced in the mirror so that I could see how I looked and moved. I knew that if I wanted to be a successful singer, I had to be the best I could be."
"I was always open to feedback from others. I knew that I could always learn something new, and I was always willing to improve my skills. I listened to what my coaches and mentors had to say, and I used their feedback to make me a better singer."
"I never compared myself to other singers. I knew that I was unique, and I focused on developing my own talents and style. I knew that I could never be anyone else, so I decided to be the best Tina Turner that I could be."
Turner is a great example of how someone rose from the ashes of being controlled to controlling her own destiny by capitalizing on her own uniqueness. She was a truly unique and original artist. Her voice, her style, and her music were all her own. She was not afraid to be herself, and she never tried to imitate anyone else. This made her stand out from the crowd, and it helped her to become one of the most successful and beloved performers of all time.
In a world where AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is important to remember that humans are still unique and irreplaceable. We have the ability to create, innovate, and express ourselves in ways that AI cannot.
Artist Andie Lafrentz has a thoughtful way of finding the unique creative within yourself —
Be patient with yourself. Finding your style, what you can offer that is uniquely yours, takes time. For actors and other artists, it’s also about learning about yourself.
Practice a lot. It can take years and years to develop your talent and style, to expand your artist abilities, oftentimes even a lifetime.
Experiment. Unlike other careers that are more linearly defined, to be creative is expanding and experimenting. It often includes seeing how you feel, bringing in cultural context, and sharing.
Learn from other artists. There’s a reason why artists flock together. We feed off each others’ ideas and works. It’s a decentralized collective of inspiration and imagination. This is why, for example, writers’ rooms are so important in creating a TV show: the group’s imagination is better than a single person, and this holds true for on set and in post-production as well.
Look for patterns in your work. This is an often forgotten piece of advice but a very good one that ties into being patient. It requires you not only to be personally observant but also to be open to feedback from others. For example, if you keep getting feedback that your work is thought-provoking in a social context, this is a clue to your special talents that you can hone in on. Director and Filmmaker Ava DuVernay is a great example of this —
Join a class or community. This ties in with learning from other artists, especially those who have had more artist life experience. It can catapult you further ahead much faster, not to mention the mental, emotional, and creative support you receive in a nurturing environment.
Turner embodied all of these recommendations, especially being patient with herself. She was a unique and original artist, a pioneer, and a survivor. She showed the world that humans are capable of great things, and she inspired others to follow their dreams.