CAAM + KCRW Presents: 'Feet Prayer' by Lynnée Denise

KCRW and the California African American Museum have co-commissioned an artwork, “Feet Prayer,” by Lynnée Denise. As CAAM is currently closed, the work is exhibited here and will be presented with the exhibition "Nikita Gale: PRIVATE DANCER," which will be on view at CAAM when the museum reopens

Using the conceptual framework of DJ scholarship as a lens, Denise “digs through the crates” of Black rock queen Tina Turner’s Nutbush, Tennessee, roots by drawing on carefully selected archival images, interviews, and music to create "Feet Prayer."

KCRW's Novena Carmel recently interviewed Denise about what Tina Turner's career has taught us about the myth of the music genre, which you can listen to here:

And in light of this work, Denise got together with legendary crunk-funk artist Joi and “Heat Rocks” podcast host Morgan Rhodes to provide more context and conversation about Tina Turner and her impact on American music. Listen to their conversation, or read a transcript of the audio below.

Heads up, this audio and transcript contains explicit language. It was recorded via Zoom on Friday, June 13. 


DJ Lynnée Denise is an artist, scholar, and writer whose work reflects on underground cultural movements, the 1980s, migration studies, theories of escape, and electronic music of the African Diaspora. Photo courtesy of Lynnée Denise. 

Lynnée Denise: Hello, hello, peoples, hello!

Morgan Rhodes: Hey

Joi: Hello!

Denise: I am so happy to have y’all in the house, to talk about the Queen. And I can’t think of any two other people I want to have this conversation with. But before we start this conversation, I just want to acknowledge or admit that I’ve slept on Tina Turner! Now of course I knew she was a beast, and in the same family with kinfolk like, [Patti] Labelle, and Betty Davis, and our very own Joi. And I knew she was a part of this lineage of Black funk-rock queens. But my admission is about the fact that I have never done the kind of deep-dive that I have done to kind of create this piece and that I plan to do after it. And what I found is that Tina Turner, in her 50 years, was laying the foundation of rock, of funk, of soul, right? And so part of why I didn’t even realize the weight with which she holds this crown is because so much about her story is connected to her as a survivor versus her as a brilliant musician. So I wanted to frame the conversation, but I want to start by introducing these very important and prestigious guests. 

First, I want to start with Morgan Rhodes. Morgan Rhodes is a music supervisor and a DJ, and a music critic. And I would say a music historian and a music scholar. She is the co-host of Heat Rocks, which is a weekly podcast where they invite guests to talk about their favorite artists [and] to talk about and have in-depth conversations about certain albums, and to do a deep dive into the crates of our lives and those albums that shaped us. So thank you so much, Morgan, and welcome. 

Morgan Rhodes: Thanks. Glad to be here. 

Lynnée Denise: Welcome. And then the second guest is an artist by the name of Joi, and she is point blank, period, one of the most important performers and musicians who manages to live her life similarly to Tina Turner across musical genres, but who also develops other artists and is largely responsible for shaping so much of what we know about what is called the “Atlanta Sound,” which is interesting because, similarly to Tina Turner, Joi is from Nashville, Tennessee. And so not only does she force us to rethink what people know about genre, but also talks about what happens when one migrates to another place and influences and shapes the sound. So I'm super excited to be here with two of my favorite thinkers about music. And welcome to you both. 

Morgan Rhodes: Thank you. I just want to add the Joi and I are both Aquarians. Put that in as well. Placements are so critical. 

Lynnée Denise: Placements are critical. I'm a Capricorn and Tina is a Sag. 

Morgan Rhodes: Yes. 

Lynnée Denise: So I appreciate that. All that's missing is water. 

Joi: But I would like to add you, too, and that's so important. But it's great to have you here right now so I can tell you together, my favorite musical minds, my favorite critical thinkers as it pertains to music and culture as a whole, so I just wanted to add that.

Morgan Rhodes: Thank you so much. And I also want to add that both Lynnée and Joi are prolific guests on Heat Rocks. Lynnée talked about Aretha Franklin. And Joi talked about Betty Davis. So it's like a whole Black Girl Reunion, this Black-Chella, Black-girl-chella. 

Lynnée Denise: Okay Black Girl-Chella! 

Morgan Rhodes: So glad to be here.

Lynnée Denise: Yes. In Tina's name, let us pray Amen! No. But let the church say Amen, because we are here in the church of Tina tonight. You know, and like coming together in her honor. And you know what? I am grateful because she's here, still, with us. And this is not about kind of like, you know, scrambling to get together a tribute, but to sit with her while she's still breathing with us and think about what she has offered us. So let's start here. So I was invited to participate and kind of create a soundtrack for the artist Nikita Gale, whose first solo exhibition, “Private Dancer,” will be exhibited at the California African-American Museum. And the title of that exhibition is is “Private Dancer.” And when I started thinking about, you know, Tina Turner and what I could contribute, I kind of got stuck in a Tina Turner ‘80s because I realized actually that's where I started. And it might be where I ended up until now. I realized that I hadn't been in the world of her funk rock coming out of the ‘60s, coming out of the ‘70s and it is telling of my age. Born in '75, “Private Dancer,” “What's Love Got to Do With It,” the birth of MTV. And then this like, you know, woman in her 40s having this kind of resurgence of a career, not even a resurgence; a totally separate career from what she had, right? And so I just want to kind of start off right there, like what came to mind for you all when I was just like, please join me in a conversation about Tina. Anybody, we can start with you, Morgan. 

Morgan Rhodes: I think the first thing that came to mind is, are two things. One, something that I asked my mother when I was close to turning 40. I asked her, what do the 40s mean? What should I know about the 40s? And she said 40s mean you're young enough to start over, but you're too old to be foolish. And I love Tina Turner's story of starting over in her 40s. By any industry standard, it's too old to start over. But what I know from my mother and also from Tina, that is that you're young enough to start over. It also reminds me of of one of my favorite verses in Job that says, "Your latter days will be better than your former days." And when we look back at Tina Turner, we will look at her latter days more than her former days. And “Private Dancer,” the album, is an album that you make in your 40s subject matter. By the time you get into your 40s, you know that barring bells and whistles and warm fuzzy feelings, if it's not healthy, "what's love got to do with it?" Those are things you know in your 40s; you don't know them in your 30s. You are still in some fuzz. But by the time you get to your 40s, you're saying things like, "what's love got to do with it," and "you better be good to me." So it was on brand I think for the time. And so when I think about Tina Turner, I think about resilience. I think about the decision. We have this joke as kids, Black kids. We say, you know, trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. Tina Turner left Ike [Turner] with 36 cents in her pocket. Not only did she make a dollar right, she sold 200 million albums, 12 Grammy's, and left a whole legacy behind and started all over again. Right? Now, that's making a dollar out of 15 cents. 

So when I think about Tina Turner, I think about strength. I think about a determined woman. And I think about it's not how you start. It's how you finish. And “Private Dancer” was the beginning of that. And I also think about stilettos because before I was really rocking them like that. Looking back at these old clips, I was like Tina was killing in stilettos. And it wasn't until I started like rocking them really seriously, I was like, I'm doing my best to walk in these. That's just because my mother sent me to charm school, right? Tina Turner was dancing, dropping it, spinning. Like, what do you mean? Like the whole video for "What's Love Got to do With it," she's walking down the street in her stilettos. She got a little shimmy. So you have to respect this second half of Tina Turner's career. It has to be respected. If nothing else, that she attempted it. We know she survived. She thrived. But just for the attempt when, like I said, in most industries, they would say that you will be mid-40s, not beginning of your 40s, that your mid 40s are too old to start over. But she did. And so we're gathered here today because she did, I think. 

Lynnée Denise: So speaking of stilettos and what it means, and I've never put on a pair of stilettos in my life, but part of why I reached out to Joi to talk about Tina is because what I witness Joi do. While wearing stilettos. Please talk about how you came to Tina and just what comes to mind?

Joi: What comes to mind when I think about. Tina and how she first, you know, came into my life is as a little bitty girl. In Nashville, Tennessee. Hearing “Sexy Ida,” for the first time, at probably a cookout at my Auntie Lulu's house, or perhaps even at my Auntie Andy's house, who was actually quite an exceptionally good dancer herself. She was a major out at Tennessee State and she really liked Tina Turner. My family is a bit buttoned-up and conservative. They like to have a good time, but they're a little conservative. So you kind of like wild and, you know, free spirit and given it the way Tina was giving it in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They can, like, appreciate you, but they can also be a little little bit of a pearl-clutching bunch as well. But my Auntie Andy though and my Auntie Lulu very much liked Tina Turner, and I can remember it was my Auntie Andy who was maybe going to Four Corners, listening to “Sexy Ida.” And it resonated so deeply with me, so much so that I wanted to have a doll that looked like her. And there was a doll back then named Tuesday Taylor. And Tuesday Taylor also came in like a three foot, large doll. And the top of the head of Tuesday Taylor turned, to change the color of the hair. So, like on one part, it was like a dark and you could turn the top of the head around and it was like a reddish kind of wig situation. Much like how Tina was, and the outfit that she had on was like little shimmering little, almost like a little ice skating outfit, kind of, but very similar to some of those Tina outfits during the 70s. And “Sexy Ida,” there was no way that I should have been able to relate to the subject matter, excuse me, of “Sexy Ida” at that time, but it resonated very deeply with me, much like how Prince resonated with me as a child. Very similar. It went right in. I didn't have to really think about it. I didn't have to really ponder it. I wasn't confused by it. It spoke to me on a cellular level as a little bitty girl, and so “Sexy Ida” was my introduction to Tina Turner. I didn't even get into the sort of ‘60s Tina until later. For me, it was about “Sexy Ida.” And the next thing that I would hear would be “Nutbush,” which also spoke to me on a cellular level. And by the time I was able to really, really absorb that performance acting of hers, it completely had everything to do with how I view myself as an entertainer, too. There are few artists that I can credit with shaping me as a performer. And she hands down is one of them. 

Lynnée Denise: OK. And it's interesting because in my rediscovery of her, I saw you. You know? And I was like, so, how long, how far does this kind of Black woman as rockster date back for us? And interestingly enough, learning a little more about Tina Turner and learning that one of her earliest influences was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. And that connection is very important because I feel like I realized I had never even put the two in conversation. But then she shifts it and talks about how she is very proud of the fact that she doesn't have this feminine voice. And she's talked about how Ray Charles and Sam Cooke were major influences or that because she was in this kind of all-boy, all-male band with Ike, and I'm not sure would be the appropriate sort of singer's languages around what it means to have to adjust your voice to meet the register of a man. But that's what she was doing. So I was just thinking about that. And then in terms of the video and I actually don't even want to have a detailed conversation about it. But just to say that I chose songs that stood out to me: “Whole Lotta Love,” seeing her rendition of “Let's Get Together,” and seeing her rendition of “I Can't Stand the Rain.” And in the way she tore it up with the dancing. But it just made me think about how much I don't know about not just her as a masterful person who covers, like, Aretha Franklin, but also just this body of work. So Morgan, please talk to me about this album, this gospel album that moves you so much. 

Morgan Rhodes: Man. So I have to go back and say that “Proud Mary,” my introduction of “Proud Mary” was by my Aunt,  our family's a little bit buttoned-up too, churchy. My Aunt loved the Lord, but didn't spend a lot of time with him. And so we would hear all the good albums over there, and “Proud Mary” I heard at my Aunt's house and just as a little kid, we were trying to do the dance moves and get all that rolling and spinning around, right? And so it was years later, and I don't remember when, just in research, like, you know, as we all do as collectors, you go down a rabbit hole. And just one Google search led me to this album, which is “The Gospel According to Ike and Tina.” Regional bias being what it is, you know, L.A. is my home town. This album was recorded at Bolic Sound Studios in Inglewood. So it's got resonance for me. So many albums were recorded there. Tina Turner had a country album that was also recorded there, but it sounds like a rock album. So this album is precious to me because it's the classics. It's everything that I grew up with. It’s “Glory, Glory.” It's “Walk With Me.” It’s “Amazing Grace.” It's “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Right? All the songs I grew up with, but with a rock edge. Because rock is in your soul, right. And so even as she's singing standards and these are standard songs I'm talking about. We all know them. You can't take that funk and that rock out of her. Which draws right back to Rosetta, because Rosetta was presenting gospel music with a church coat on and a guitar and killing, right? Period. 

Lynnée Denise: And going home to a woman. 

Morgan Rhodes: How about that? The godfathers and godmothers of rock and roll for me, are Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Rosetta Tharpe, right, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. And so the merging of rock and roll and gospel just makes sense to me. When I found this album, and I have to show you the cover because I'm old school and literally still have the CD. But the liner notes are incredible. They talk all about the recording. How it took so long for them to do this. But the standout track from me on that album is “When the Saints Go Marching In.” And I have never heard “When the Saints Go Marching In” like this one. So if you get a chance to listen to it, this is it. And for me, when you draw the lineage between rock and roll and Tina, there's such a strong lineage of rock and roll and Black women beyond Sister Rosetta Tharpe. You got Gail Ann Dorsey, you got Joi, you got Betty Davis, you got the Brides of Funkenstein like all of them go together. You got Nona Hendryx, you got Poly Styrene, So it all makes sense, all the versions of rock. You've got Tamar-kali. So there is a long lineage. 

Lynnée Denise: Big Momma Thornton, just for the record. 

Morgan Rhodes: Erma Franklin, right? Right? Because “Ball and Chain” is Big Momma Thornton. “Hound Dog” is Big Momma Thornton. Right? Piece of my heart is Erma Franklin, all those songs now are famous. Then Janis Joplin, of course, Elvis Presley. So the lineage is really, really there. And Tina, no matter what she sings, even on these church songs and on that country album, honey, that rock edge is ever present. We like to take claim of the gospel squall, but there's some electricity, and Joi can probably speak on it, that straight belongs to funk and rock and roll. That's in all Tina's songs, as in “Private Dancer.” “I Can't Stand the Rain.” Not to take anything away from Ann Peebles because she killed. Or Missy [Elliot] for flipping it later. But in between then, Tina Turner wore us out on that, right? Joi can speak a little bit more to the rock that is present. 

Joi: It's like rock is the badass child of the gospel. So, you know, it's an unbridled, whereas the squall in gospel was normally heard from the pulpit, not necessarily, was more heard by the man, whooping as they preached. But once you get into the funk and into rock and roll and women get a hold of that squall and it's set free, it don't have no religious boundaries on it, within rock and roll. It's coming from the same guttural place, but it's also free, wild. There's a “freeness,” the wildness there that can't be contained and registers different. It hits different, as the kids say. 

Morgan Rhodes: That's it.

Lynnée Denise: So "Funkier than a Mosquito's Tweeter" — because I just want to acknowledge Alline Bullock, her sister, who wrote that song. And I had no idea that Nina Simone was covering a Tina Turner, you know, Alline Bullock, you know, original song. But that’s "funkier than a mosquito's tweeter," you know. And just this interesting tradition, it's also Jamaican, of like, it's a little bit beyond the cover. It's like the kind of sonic signature that you put on a song that preexisted, you know. So thinking about this is one of her first, one of the first sort of like original songs. And then the other song that she talks about being her song or two songs. Proud Mary. She talks about her ownership of “Proud Mary,” but also that she wrote, “Nutbush City.” So can you talk about why that spoke to you, Joi? 

Joi: And - I'm very glad you brought that up. My two favorite Tina songs are ones that she penned. She penned “Sexy Ida,” as well. And she penned “Nutbush.” “Nutbush” speaks to me - it's Tennessee. You know, it is talking about a time that, I didn't exist, that I'm one generation, two generations removed from as well. "Church House, gin house, schoolhouse, outhouse." You know, all kind of right there within the same vicinity, like, you know, saying it like they all exist right here. Aside from just the music being, you know, just some relentless, you know, funk rock filthiness, that vocal and that lyric - the deliberateness of the delivery, the vocal choices that she made, the simplicity of the lyrics, but how incredibly vivid. Like I see the town, I see what she's singing about. 

So clearly, there was, there's something I'm about being able to completely encapsulate the thing with as little language as possible. And she did it so masterfully, like all the people that I love as writers are able to do that. They don't have to say a whole bunch, it ain’t about the whole $20-words, and all this, it’s the simplicity. But I mean, it is bright technicolor vivid in your mind from the way that they put those words together. And that's what really drew me in. For “Nutbush.” And “Sexy Ida” too. Because it's a short song. She said what she had to say and got on up out of there. You know, she didn’t have to tarry there. I said what I said, and I'm done. You know? Those are the reasons, for me, that's why I love those two songs in particular. Aside from the fact she's able to take anything that she sings and make it her own, which is something that also stuck with me as a performer, because I believe you put your hands on something, and choose to cover something you damn well better, you know, make it your own or leave it alone. And so she's been able to definitely do that in such a way where, you know, you don't even know unless you already knew the song she's covering. You don't know. You think it's her! 

Lynnée Denise: Right. Right. Like Aretha. 

Joi: Like Aretha, yeah.

Lynnée Denise: Well, I have two more questions. And so, Morgan, we'll start with you. And you can actually start with whatever one you want to answer. I'm curious about what comes to mind for you when you think about River Deep and her work with Phil Spector. That's one thing. But then also this interesting kind of almost push back against R & B and blues that I felt like she kind of held, you know, to be a part of her almost explanation of freedom? It's almost as though she associates R & B and blues with Black pain and then her trauma and therefore has turned to the white version, very specifically, of rock. But she talks about turning to that with the consciousness of the fact that they are students of the music that she's also at times distancing herself away from. So whatever whatever you feel that, you know, to jump in around any of those questions or those points? 

Morgan Rhodes: Well, I'll say that — and it might be a revelation to some folks — but most every genre of music has its roots around Black folks. So be it blues or rock and roll, you know, they're connected on a very cellular level. We always said about blues, like, don't sing the blues if you haven't suffered, like, you have to have suffered a little bit to sing the blues. But I think there's a lot of blues in “Proud Mary.” That's her telling her story. Right? “Proud Mary” kept on rolling. That's the blues right there. Right. Those are the blues. And the fire. Right. And the exodus from Nutbush and the cotton pickin is what gave birth to rock and roll. That's the fire, the electricity. That's the fire of survival. I think the pushback, if there has been some, is that we want so badly to connect faces with movements. We want to have, we want to frame artists in the genres and the presentations that we want them to be in. And Tina, Tina said no. But Tina crafted her career carefully, even when she didn't have as much control, right? She said, I think in your beautiful visual film that she decided when she was going to ad lib and how she was going to ad lib, she started making those decisions. I mean c'mon she's got the “Acid Queen” album and you know, “Acid Queen” is on the Tommy soundtrack. So I think she was already making those decisions for herself. And I think probably Joi can speak to it a little bit more. But creative control, you know, is a hard fought battle. But she did. And I do think that Tina doesn't have to sing about suffering for us to know that she did. We know what her history is. But the story of Tina Turner is the story of sonic redemption and renewal. And all that's present and it's so gangster to just decide, I'm going to do rock and roll, I'm going to rock and roll in this gospel album. I'm going to put it in.. that's so gangster. That's so, that's so, that has the swag that comes with rock and roll. So for me, nobody Black can escape the blues. So the blues are there. If you ask me, Tina Turner's a rock star. Period. She got a song from her album. I might have been queen. You have been queen. Queen of rock and roll. Queen of soul. Queen of blues. It is all there in Tina Turner, she's got everything. 32 flavors and then some. And so I'm glad that she took possession of that. And, you know, scholars, eloquent folks will debate what genre she truly belonged to. And I think she's a little bit of all of those things that you mentioned. 

Lynnée Denise: For sure. I mean I really, so, how about her as a dancer? Yeah. I mean. I mean, like her as a dancer and a performer. Two separate masterful skills - like, singer, songwriter, dancer, performer and her relationship with that mic. 

Joi: I mean, all I can really do is exhale. (Laughs)

Morgan Rhodes: In stilettos. 

Lynnée Denise: In stilettos!

Joi: We hadn't seen it done like that up until that point. She like she was it. Like she was the genesis of what any of us could think about as a rock star that was a woman. A rock star?! She's the genesis. Like it, it is her and then it is everybody else. And that's the truth. There aren't even enough words. Like as a dancer. Who was moving like that?! Who was who was bringing it? Who had that much, first of all, the choreography was doggon on point, like just razor sharp choreography. But then the aggression and the sensuality and the unapologetic, like stank leg, like Black girl thing. I don't even, like just, there was nothing watered down about it. It was a full fledged in your face, Black-ass situation. With that dance. And that throat. But the depth of the Blackness like always, it strikes me this day, because when you look at those clips now and just like: Hmm. The honesty and it's just unfiltered, unfiltered, untouched. Pure, like it's a pure expression. There's nothing that's untampered with by outside hands. 

Lynnée Denise: Come on. 

Joi: Untampered with, as you know, that's a that's a that's a that's a that's a self actualized expression, there. Ain’t nobody else, no outside nothing, had nothing to do with how that's coming across. The purity of that. That's why I can be fucked with, excuse me, fooled with you know, to this day. The purity, it's uncut dope. 

Lynnée Denise: So I'd like to take this time to place myself in the bodies of folks like David Bowie and say, thank you, Tina. And in the body of Mick Jagger and say, thank you, Tina. In the body of Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin. And say, thank you, Tina. Because even Mick Jagger very specifically, that those moves I was like hold on, somebody's been studying, and he says it and he admits it. I've been watching a number of documentaries. He admits that he studied Tina Turner's dance and stage presence. But while we're on the subject of these corporations reaching out through email, talking about their solidarity with Black life, I would like to call attention to the Rock’n’Roll [Hall of Fame], you know, induction committee to consider why Black women continue to be overlooked as Hall of Famers. And we don't need it. We don't need it. I'm not asking for inclusion. I'm pointing to something that is linked to the people who are in the streets right now, which is the fear that generates violence, whether we're talking about institutional, structural, or physical physical violence, that comes from this kind of envy of Black excellence. So thank you all so much. I love y'all. I appreciate y'all. And thank you KCRW. 

Morgan Rhodes: Thank you so much. Thank you, guys. Honored to be here.

Playlist
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