Queen Turner, as she is named, hails from a musical/dance background. The cousin of Ike Turner and a background singer/dancer for Isaac Hayes and others, when she became a part of the Soul Train Gang, she fit right in. Queen Turner shares her memories of Soul Train and her work with icons in the music industry.
Soultrain.com: Your name bespeaks royalty. Where did the origin of your name come from in your family?
Queen: My mother’s father was Jewish and my grandmother was black. My grandfather’s sister was named Queen and it was passed down through generations.
Queen: I am from North Carolina but my family and I later moved to the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area. When I was 14, I moved to Texas.
Soultrain.com: You are also related to Ike Turner, correct?
Queen: Yes. He is my cousin. I used to watch him, Tina and the Ikettes rehearse many times at his home in Baldwin Hills, California.
Soultrain.com: What was it like watching Ike Turner rehearse and working with Tina and the Ikettes?
Queen: Everyone, from the Ikettes to the band, had to be on point. Whether he said “hit it” or “quit it,” you had to be right on cue.
Soultrain.com: Ike’s abuse of Tina is well known and documented. Did you ever witness him mistreat Tina?
Queen: I didn’t like the way he treated Tina when he was high and on drugs. But when he wasn’t on drugs, he was a different person. He would give you the shirt off his back. Neither he nor his friends were to be messed with. He was good to people as long as he stayed off drugs.
Soultrain.com: You were a background singer and dancer for a number of acts, chiefly Mr. Black Moses, Isaac Hayes. How did that come about?
Queen: I had an uncle, Vernon Burch, who was with the Bar Kays. He said that Isaac Hayes was looking for some dancers. Although I was 15, I was very mature for my age. So Vernon told Isaac about me and I traveled to Memphis and the rest is history. I also did backup dancing for Rufus Thomas, The Soul Children, Johnnie Taylor, and The Temprees.
Soultrain.com: Tell me about meeting a very young Whitney Houston.
Queen: I met her because her mom, Cissy Houston, was working with Isaac and Dionne at the time for their Man & Woman album and tour. Whitney was about 11 at the time. Cissy had to keep getting on her for misbehaving. She said, “Stop Nippy. Stop!” (laughs)
Soultrain.com: What was your experience like working with the Isaac Hayes Movement?
Queen: Isaac ran a tight ship. He had 60 people in his entourage. He handled the band and the dancers with the utmost professionalism. Years later, I was on the road with the Queens of Comedy with Mo’nique when I got the news that he had died.
Soultrain.com: Your work with Isaac somehow parlayed into becoming a Soul Train dancer, right?
Queen: Yes. I first came to Soul Train in December 1973. During this time, Isaac got the acting bug so he gave everyone in his entourage their walking papers. He knew I loved dancing and he knew Don Cornelius so he got in touch with him and told him about me and I was invited to a taping. It was so surreal when I first stepped onto the set.
Soultrain.com: How was it meeting Don Cornelius?
Queen: I actually first met him at the Push Black Expo a year earlier when Isaac and others from the Stax organization had performed there. Don was very cordial.
Soultrain.com: I know you have many favorite moments from being on the show, but was there any special moment that stands out?
Queen: I have one funny moment! When I first came to the Soul Train, my head was shaved because as a background dancer with Isaac, my head had to be shaved. So I wore a wig until my hair started to grow back. One time when we were doing the Soul Train line, something had happened and the director yelled cut and the line had to be retaped about four times. By the fourth time I was so hot and tired, I snatched my wig off when I came down the Soul Train line! When this episode aired, that moment was unedited and kept in! (laughs)
Soultrain.com: What are some of your favorite memories of recording artists that came to the show?
Queen: Of course, Ike & Tina Turner’s appearance was my favorite! Everyone was excited when they came to the show. I also established a good relationship with Michael Jackson when he came to the show. I was studying to be a Jehovah’s Witness and he was already a Jehovah’s Witness so we spoke to one another. I remember that many of the dancers were so overly excited by Michael being on the set that it overwhelmed him, so I took him upstairs and told them to get back. I was pretty defiant! I also remember when Barry White, Love Unlimited and his orchestra came to the show. It took so long for them to get set up. Glodean (Barry’s wife at the time) and I became friends from that time on. Both of us had long nails. I also met Minnie Riperton on the set and we became really good friends and hung out a lot.
Soultrain.com: Did you ever do the Scramble Board?
Queen: Yes. My dance partner and I, Chris Benabeade, did the Scramble Board. I won this 8-track tape player. That was surreal at the time. I thought I had it going on!
Soultrain.com: Who were your favorite dance partners?
Queen: Besides Chris, my favorite partner was Eddie Franklin (Aretha Franklin’s son). He was such a fun, cool down to earth guy. Darnell Williams and Bobby Washington were my other favorites.
Soultrain.com: Did Pam Brown, the coordinator of the dancers, ever come up to you with that big paper cup asking you to spit out chewing gum?
Queen: I fell victim to her gum ritual all the time! She is such a sweet person. I remember that when she was pregnant I threw her a baby shower.
Soultrain.com: Did you ever deal with jealousy on the set?
Queen: There were haters. A lot of my outfits were specially designed so some of the girls would make comments or stare. Also, when Don and Dick Griffey were forming the Soul Train Gang recording group and I was supposed to be a part of it, one of the dancers spread a rumor on the set that I was gay and told Don and Dick about it and they both made a big deal about it. They called me into a meeting and gave me the third degree, but I spoke up for myself and told them that the rumor wasn’t true and that even if it was, it’s my personal business. Because of this situation, I didn’t become a part of the Soul Train Gang recording group.
Soultrain.com: Because of your connections in the entertainment industry, you worked with Soul Train for a while in some capacity, correct?
Queen: Yes. I did side work for artists that would come to Soul Train whereby if there was an event or party that was going on while they were in town I would set things up so that they would be able to attend.
Soultrain.com: What did you do professionally after leaving Soul Train?
Queen: I became a part of a group called 24 Karat Gold. Natalie Cole’s husband, Marvin Yancy, was the manager of the group. We did disco and R&B music. We worked in Canada and Europe. We were really big over there and our music is still being played there. Our music has even been uploaded on YouTube. I was also part of a group called Raw Silk, but it didn’t fare very well.
Soultrain.com: Where did your journey take you after leaving the entertainment industry?
Queen: I decided to get out of the music business and became a mortician. I studied mortuary and forensic sciences at Cypress College in Cypress, California. I was a mortician for 20 years.
Soultrain.com: You have a son that is in the music business.
Queen: Yes. In 1991 my son started rapping. He and his friends are also dancers. His stage name was Arrogant. He lives in New York City. He writes music now and works with Clark Kent.
Soultrain.com: Sadly, a lot of dancers from the show who were also your friends had passed on. What would you like to say in their memory?
Queen: It is so sad. At some of the last Soul Train Gang reunions, I read aloud all the names of the dancers who had died. One of my partners, Chris Benadeade, had so many big plans. Jermaine Stewart and I were good friends. I knew he was sick in later years but I thought he had it under control. He wanted me to lay down some tracks for some recordings he had done before he died. I lost a lot of friends.
Soultrain.com: Tell me about your last memory of seeing Don Cornelius.
Queen: I had just seen Don and his son Tony at Glodean White’s annual party last year. I saw him yearly at Glodean’s parties. When I saw him at the party in October 2010, he knew who I was, but when I saw him last year it took a while for him to recognize me.
Soultrain.com: What would you like to say in Don’s memory?
Queen: I am very sad about his death. He was a good, private man. He will be missed.
Soultrain.com: What are you doing currently?
Queen: I am in the process of writing my autobiography entitled Queen of the Crop. I will also be appearing on a reality show called Welcome to Sweety Pie’s, which aired on the OWN Network Sept. 15th. The show is based on one of the former Ikettes’ jewelry line. I am also part of a show called Diva Grannies–a spinoff of Sweety Pie’s–which I hope will be picked up. In addition, I am married to my childhood friend, Joseph Gordon of Maryland.
Soultrain.com: What was your overall experience with Soul Train?
Queen: I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was wonderful. I met a lot of good people. God sent so many good people into my life. Thelma Davis, one of the dancers from the show, played a big part in my life with my kids. She is like a godmother to them.
Soultrain.com: Do you have a word of wisdom you want to share with the readers of Soultrain.com?
Queen: Know who God is because without Him we are nothing.
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian.