Simply the Best
Rock ‘n’ roll’s ultimate icon returns home in Brownsville’s Tina Turner Museum
Story by Emily Davidson Nemoy
Places | March 2016
Located near Nutbush, in Brownsville, Tennessee, the Flagg Grove School where Tina Turner spent her formative years is now a functioning museum housing the largest known public collection of Tina Turner costumes and memorabilia in the world. Immortalized in the lyrics of her self-penned 1973 hit “Nutbush City,” the school was built in the late 1880s by Tina’s great-uncle, Benjamin Flagg, and was among the first in the South for African Americans. Tina attended most of grades one through eight in the one-room schoolhouse. As a child, she regularly stood on the school’s stage to take part in the morning devotional, singing gospel hymns along with her classmates.
The Flagg Grove School served the Nutbush community for more than seventy years. Purchased by Joe Stephens Sr. in 1967, the school became a working barn with side structures added for animal shelters and equipment storage. “We understand from our contractors that these side structures actually helped to protect the building from the elements,” says Sonia Outlaw-Clark, Executive Director of the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center. In 2012, the building was donated to the center where it was moved, directly off of I-40.
“Ideally,” she adds, “it would have been nice to preserve the school on its original site, but this was not possible because of an irrigation system being constructed on the property.” Before moving the building, the contractor built temporary walls inside the building to stabilize it. The team was elated to find some of the original desks, tables, benches and a chalkboard still remaining.
Tina’s personal interior designer, Stephen Sills, who also counts Anna Wintour, Vera Wang and the Rockefeller family among his clients, designed the exhibitions. Sills made several trips to Brownsville to oversee the restorationduring the two-year process. Among the artifacts on display are the dress Tina wore to perform “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from Mad Max, her high school yearbook, a copy of the letter Prince Charles wrote to her after seeing her in concert and a replica of the stage from Tina’s “Wildest Dreams” tour. Also presented is a collection of her goldrecords, the outfit she wore when she performed with Beyonce at the Grammys in 2008 and the black pants and white-ruffled shirt she wore during the encore performance of “Nutbush City Limits” on her final tour. Further, Tina speaks to fans in a video, sharing remembrances of Nutbush and the Flagg Grove School.
The opening of the museum has made a huge economic impact on Brownsville. Last year, guests from more than 40 countries stopped by to take a tour. “We like to brag that you can see the King and Queen right here in West Tennessee.” Outlaw-Clark says. The Tina Turner Museum is one of the stops along the Americana Music Triangle, that encompasses the area between Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. Working together with other points of interest, the museum is able to offer music enthusiasts a unique experience where Tina’s life began.
The Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School is a must-see for music fans interested in learning a little more about one of the world’s best-selling music artists, the queen of rock ‘n’ roll. Whether you fell in love with Tina during her early duo accomplishments or through her mainstream solo success, her stage presence, energy and dynamic vocals cannot be denied. The power of Tina’s performances and life’s work spans generations. All hail the queen.
The Tina Turner Museum at Flagg Grove School is open seven days a week. There is no admission charge.