When Tina Turner Rocked Out for the McGovern CampaignBreaking News
tags: George McGovern, Tina Turner
Tina Turner, a native of Tennessee who lived much of her life in Europe, only rarely waded into American politics. The “Queen of Rock and Roll,” who died Wednesday at age 83, quietly supported Barack Obama for the presidency in 2008, with the encouragement of Oprah Winfrey and some inspiration from Caroline Kennedy. But Turner’s one high-profile political performance came decades earlier, as part of a remarkable show of women’s solidarity with the anti–Vietnam War campaign of 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern.
On October 27, 1972, the singer was a volunteer headliner for the “Star-Spangled Women for McGovern–Shriver” concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden, which closed with Turner singing “America the Beautiful” with a feminist icon, the mother of a president and one of the nation’s best-known folk singers: Gloria Steinem, Rose Kennedy, and Mary Travers, respectively. Earlier in the evening, Turner had delivered an electrifying performance of hits she’d had with Ike Turner during the 1960s and early ’70s. But this time, she wasn’t performing with the domineering and abusive husband she would eventually divorce. The New York Times critic reviewing the show noted that “Tina Turner was there, with the Ikettes, but without the brooding presence of her husband Ike; she sounded just as down‐home funky without him as she ever had with him.”
Turner’s historic performance served as a reminder of the many ways in which the 1972 campaign by McGovern, the South Dakota senator whose insurgent left-wing candidacy reframed the Democratic nomination process but failed to displace President Richard Nixon, was a cultural phenomenon. Many of the nation’s most prominent performers—especially singers and musicians—appeared at benefit concerts that played a pivotal role in funding a campaign that was challenging both the political and the economic status quo.
Three of the top-charting singing stars of the moment—Barbra Streisand, Carole King, and James Taylor—played an April 1972, gig for the McGovern campaign at The Forum in Los Angeles with Quincy Jones and his Orchestra. They raised over $300,000 and produced a live recording of the show that made it into the top 20 on the Billboard album chart and steered additional funds toward the cause of McGovern and his running mate, Sargent Shriver. Another $400,000 was raised in June of that year at a “Together for McGovern” event in Madison Square Garden that featured a reunited Simon and Garfunkel; Peter Paul and Mary; and Dionne Warwick. After the crowd of more than 18,000 joined in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” McGovern appeared on stage to thank everyone for making “our contribution to the Richard Nixon retirement fund.”
But as the November election drew near, McGovern’s campaign was strapped for cash. One of his most ardent supporters, actress and long-time activist Shirley MacLaine, had an idea. She rented Madison Square Garden with her own money and started calling every woman she knew to ask them to appear at a campaign-closing concert for McGovern. The response was overwhelming. While only women would perform on stage, men were allowed to show concertgoers to their seats—with MacLaine’s brother Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, James Earl Jones, and Jimmy Breslin among those serving as ushers.
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