This town made Tina Turner. She made him famous.

Reaching Nutbush, a point in a Tennessee town between Memphis and Nashville, requires exiting Interstate 40, just past the tourist billboard covered with the Tina Turner photo, past the Tina Turner Museum and on driving up the Tina Turner Highway, which leads to the town sign declaring it to be the “Birthplace of Tina Turner”.

There is little doubt about Nutbush’s fame.

The iconic singer didn’t come back often. Almost never, in fact. Years ago, when David Letterman asked her why on his talk show, she replied, “There’s really nothing to go back on.”

But after Ms Turner died last week at her castle in Switzerland, the people of Nutbush have found meaning as a repository of Tina Turner’s origin story, her early life as Anna Mae Bullock.

She had been shaped by her upbringing there, those who knew her were sure of that. But they also knew that she, in turn, had come to define the place, opening it up to fans and curious tourists from Nutbush, which might otherwise be known for its cotton.

“That’s what Tina means to me,” said Sonia Outlaw-Clark, director of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, which includes the museum dedicated to Ms. Turner. “She connected me with the world.”

Sunday evening, a few dozen residents gathered for a memorial. “How do you say goodbye to a woman, an icon, a legend, a local girl?” said Achana Jarrett, whose mother grew up with Ms Turner and who helped stage the event on a simple outdoor stage, with people seated in folding chairs.

The answer: She and Ms. Outlaw-Clark led those gathered to sing “Nutbush City Limits,” a 1973 song by Ms. Turner.

Twenty-five was the speed limit
Motorcycle not allowed
You go to the store on Friday
You go to church on Sunday
They call it Nutbush, little old town

For an older generation, Mrs. Turner’s death was personal.

Robbie Jarrett Ewing recalled doing wrong as a child with Anna Mae Bullock in the pews of Woodlawn Missionary Baptist Church and trying to hide it from their grandmothers. “We just did everything we could without the old women looking at us,” Ms Ewing said.

When they were a little older and better behaved, Mrs. Turner sang in the choir and Mrs. Ewing played the piano. “I knew, even growing up, that she had great potential,” Ms Ewing said.

Ms. Turner played on the Carver High School basketball team in the 1950s and propelled the Glee Club to a first-place trophy. She was a caring older cousin and babysitter – and the pupil who was known for showing up late and sneaking into school through a window.

Ms Ewing lost touch, but she admired Ms Turner’s resilience, particularly as she recovered from her abusive relationship with Ike Turner. “Knowing that you can have calamities, but if you are strong enough, with a strong mind and a strong will, you can reach the top of the hill,” she said.

Pam Stephens, a resident who attended the memorial, often cautions outsiders who only know the community from “Nutbush City Limits” to temper their expectations. On the one hand, referring to Nutbush as a town is overkill. The unincorporated area includes Woodlawn Missionary Baptist, a cotton gin and a few houses. “There’s not even a stop sign,” she said, “unless you turn off the main road.”

But the Tina Turner Museum, in her childhood school, gave visitors another reason to get off the freeway. The one-room schoolhouse, which had deteriorated on property owned by Mrs. Stephens’ family, was moved next to the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center in nearby Brownsville.

The renovated white wooden building is filled with artifacts that Ms. Turner personally sent for display. Sequin outfits by Bob Mackie and Giorgio Armani. Handwritten tour stops on a calendar: Stockholm, Helsinki, Paris. Royalty even arrives: King Charles, then Prince of Wales, wrote a letter on stationery from Kensington Palace, gushing to see it. “It was a great pleasure to meet you”, he wrote, stressing “awesome”.

“I now find that I am gradually becoming an expert in the rock scene,” he added, “and can sometimes impress those who are considerably younger than me with my knowledge of certain pop bands!”

The singer’s glare and world fame deposited in a school built in 1889 – this seeming contradiction captured the essence of Ms Turner, for some residents.

“She made the big scene,” said Reverend James T. Farmer Jr., senior pastor of Woodlawn Missionary Baptist. “But she always remembered Nutbush. She never forgot her humble beginnings.

During the memorial, people sang hymns and 83 candles were lit – one for each year of Ms Turner’s life. One person after another came forward to share their stories about Ms. Turner.

Craig Fitzhugh, a former state legislator and mayor of nearby Ripley, told the crowd that she kept him when he was a kid. Years later, he approached her backstage after a show and she hugged him. She remembered him, he said, or “she acted like that, anyway.”

He joked that as a politician he sometimes used his connections to her to help win over voters: “I would say, ‘Well, you know, my babysitter was Anna Mae Bullock.'”

Sharon Norris, a cousin of Ms Turner who helped start the Tina Turner Museum, said she was aware of at least one surreptitious visit – or at least as surreptitious as a person could be in a limo white in the Tennessee countryside.

Mrs. Turner stopped by the museum. “Later,” Ms. Norris said, “she emailed me all the things that needed improvement.”

Carolyn Flagg, Vice Mayor of Brownsville, spoke of her friendship with Ms Turner, which began when they were in ninth grade.

“She had chosen a young man for the dance, but she had no idea that we both liked the same boy,” Ms Flagg recalled. “She got it, not me!”

There were no hard feelings, however.

“I love Tina and Tina loved me,” she said. “Everything Tina did, I did too.”

Before Ms Flagg spoke, she walked over to the small wooden stage and honored her friend in the best way she could imagine: the 83-year-old galloped across the floor – her version of the ‘pony’ , Mrs. Turner’s trademark dance. — as the hometown song boomed through the speakers.

“Oh, Nutbush,” Ms. Flagg sang with her former best friend. “They call it the Nutbush city limits.”

Jessica Jaglois contributed report.

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