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When Tina Turner Broke A World Record In Rio De Janeiro, 1988
Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

When Tina Turner Broke A World Record In Rio De Janeiro, 1988

Performing to a sold-out crowd of 180,000, Tina Turner’s 1988 concert in Rio De Janeiro put her name in the ‘Guinness Book Of Records’.


Tina Turner’s Break Every Rule tour proved to be an epic musical odyssey that would see the raspy-voiced Tennessee diva perform in 132 different cities around the world during 12 gruelling months on the road. It was initially billed as the singer’s farewell to live performing, and perhaps that’s why, on a balmy evening in Rio De Janeiro, on Saturday, 16 January 1988, a jaw-dropping 180,000 people crammed into the Maracanã stadium, Brazil’s iconic cathedral of football, to see the “Queen Of Rock And Roll” strut her stuff in person. Eight years earlier, the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, had drawn a whopping 170,000 souls into the Maracanã, but his place in the record books was erased to make way for Turner, who entered The Guinness Book Of Records by performing in front of the biggest fee-paying crowd that had ever turned out for a concert by a single artist.

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A record-breaking tour

By the time that the 48-year-old Turner, her musicians and entourage set foot in Brazil in early 1988, the singer had already travelled halfway round the globe. Ostensibly aimed at promoting her top-selling 1986 album, Break Every Rule, her tour of the same name began on 4 March 1987 in Munich, Germany – the starting point for a mammoth sojourn that would see Turner conquer continental Europe and the UK first, then cross the Mediterranean to Tel Aviv, Israel, followed by an Atlantic crossing for a five-month haul through the US and Canada, where she was supported by the British group Level 42.

The US leg of the tour finished in December 1987 and, after two weeks off for the holiday season, Turner began her assault on South America on 3 January 1988, when she debuted in Argentina, followed by appearances in Brazil and Chile. Then came a brief stopover in Honolulu, Hawaii – the stepping stone to the final leg of the tour, which saw Turner fly across the Pacific to South East Asia, Australia and, finally, Japan, where she concluded her record-breaking tour on 30 March 1988.

Rio 1988: a humongous crowd with transformative energy

Though the final Break Every Rule concert was in Osaka, where Turner played to 10,000 people, that gig must have seemed like an intimate club date compared with the epic scale of the Rio concert, where the humongous crowd generated an infectious and transformative energy that was clearly apparent on the VHS video of the event that was released later in 1988. Watching Turner on stage, it’s noticeable how the crowd elevated her performance to another level. The video, which was reissued on DVD in 2001, didn’t reproduce the complete 16 January concert, but rather whittled Turner’s performance down to 53 minutes by selecting 13 tracks from the 20 that the singer and her nine-piece band, which included two horn players and a percussionist, performed on the night.

Attired in a figure-hugging white top with frilled edges, a short tan skirt and her trademark stiletto heels, Tina Turner looked every inch an iconic rock goddess on the Maracanã stage. The concert’s opening number was a feisty cover of Robert Palmer’s grinding 1985 rock anthem Addicted To Love, a tune that Turner never recorded in the studio, but which had become a staple of her in-concert repertoire since 1986. (A live version appeared on her 1988 album, Tina Live In Europe, which drew on material recorded during the Break Every Rule tour.)

Most of the night’s other songs came from the Private Dancer and Break Every Rule albums, though the inclusion of a tumultuous version of Proud Mary – the Creedence Clearwater Revival song that Turner first recorded with her abusive ex-husband, Ike Turner – offered a brief but enjoyable sample of her 60s back catalogue.

Despite initially being viewed as a farewell tour, midway through her itinerary Turner clarified, in an interview with Jet magazine, that she wasn’t planning on putting away her microphone for good. It would be her “last tour for now”, she said, adding, “There probably won’t be a tour with the next album because I want to devote some time to my movie career. But I don’t plan to retire. I decided I would really love to have a year off for the first time in my life.”

A triumphant finale

After a brief hiatus following the gargantuan Break Every Rule tour, Tina Turner would pick up the music baton again and go on to experience many more career highs before finally calling it a day in 2009. She was by that time, she told The New York Times, “just tired of singing and making everybody happy”.

Though she closed her long and illustrious career with a triumphant finale in the shape of her 2009 Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour, nothing else quite matched the scale of the earlier Break Every Rule tour, which saw Turner perform 320 concerts in front of over 1.7 million people around the world. Certainly, none of her concerts eclipsed the magnitude of that record-breaking night in Rio De Janeiro, in January 1988, when Tina Turner peered out from the stage to see 188,000 adoring faces staring back at her.

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