I wore a fringe dress in honor of her the night we first met. She had just blown the roof off with an electrifying performance, and my heart was leaping out of my chest as I was being escorted to her dressing room for a quick meet-and-greet. I heard her before I saw her: That unforgettable wholehearted laugh of hers. My pupils must have been dilating like crazy as I walked through the door.
There she was: Pure energy and joy.
It was 1999. I had recently decided to cease my role as Jeanie Boulet, the HIV+ physician assistant on that magnificent television show ER. The role was taking its toll on me emotionally and psychologically. There was no relief. My instinct was very clear: I needed music in my life again. Music was my first love. And you know what they say about your first love — you never forget it. It was time to be reunited. It was time for joy — and adventure. I didn’t know how it would come about, this bringing music back into my life.
And then I met Tina.
That night in her dressing room, she said to me in that wonderfully upfront, direct and bright-eyed way of hers: “You’re so pretty! Can you sing and dance?” Barely a beat went by when I replied, “Yes, I can!” And she hit the tennis ball back into my court by saying, “You should come on tour with me next year!” Of course my answer was “OK!”
I practically skipped out of the room, retelling the brief exchange to everyone, laughing along the way as I knew it was all in good fun.
The next day I heard from Tina’s manager. Tina did indeed want to know if I could sing and dance. Three months later I sang and danced for Tina Turner in her hotel room. I left the room with the gig and became her backup singer for the North American and Canadian leg of her 24/7 world tour in 2000.
As I look back on those first five minutes, I wonder if Tina saw something in me that reminded her of herself. I mean that in the most humblest of ways. Perhaps she recognized that I too was a fighter. That music has always been a savior. It’s always been the conduit for pure, raw, emotional expression. The place where a soul that had lived through trauma, pain, grief and hopelessness could find its way again.
I believe that is what music meant to Tina Turner. And through her years honing her craft, as her soul grew stronger and more confident, she became an unstoppable, unforgettable force of unbridled talent, humor, fierce intelligence, strength and fortitude all wrapped up in a badass beautiful body.
She was a beaming light.
I am so deeply grateful to have known her and spent time in her presence, singing onstage with her. Tina’s incredibly generous spirit, support and belief in me opened the door for my soul to find its way again.