The tourists visiting San Francisco in the 1970s had no idea who Tina Turner was when Thomas Wolfe, concierge at the Fairmont Hotel, recommended seeing her perform at the Venetian Room.
“This was Middle America,” Wolfe said, referring to the visitors staying at the upscale hotel on Nob Hill. “They were expecting someone like Doris Day.”
The Venetian was typically a venue for cabaret singers like Tony Bennett, who first performed his famous “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” there in 1961. Audiences had no idea what they were in for—and had their socks blown off—when Turner took to the stage for two shows a night during a weeklong engagement in the 1970s.
“She rocked the place,” Wolfe said. “If I had 10% of her energy, I could rule the world.”
Wolfe couldn’t understand complaints at the time that she was too provocative. “We should all be so risque,” he said.
Turner returned to the Fairmont Hotel in 1981—as a much more famous star—to kick off her Nice 'N’ Rough tour.
But Wolfe’s fondest memory of Turner comes from the 1990s, when he worked as a concierge at the Plaza Hotel in New York. She received an envelope too thick to be slipped under the door, and he was given the task of bringing it up to her room.
“She answered the door in a Plaza bathrobe, with a towel wrapped around her head like a turban,” he said. But what was most striking was seeing her face at rest, not singing, with no makeup.
“She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen,” Wolfe said. “And I’ve seen a lot of women in my life.”
Julie Zigoris can be reached at email@example.com