Prince, the omnitalented artist who helped define crossover mid-1980s pop music and style along with Michael Jackson, has died at his home in Minneapolis.
The Associated Press reports that deputies responding to Prince’s studio, Paisley Park, found him unresponsive in an elevator. CPR failed. Prince was 57.
The singer had been hospitalized in Illinois last week for what his representative said at the time was the flu, which he had been battling for weeks, leading to the cancellation of two shows on his "Piano and a Microphone" tour. He was released after three hours and returned to his home in Minnesota. One of Prince’s final performances was in Oakland, Calif., last month, where he came out for three encores.
Few popular music artists can claim such originality in music or style as the diminutive (5-foot-2) musician identified with the color purple and outfits heavy on ruffles or lacking a shirt entirely. None can claim such originaltiy for so long. Prince’s first studio album, For You, reached record stores in 1978 and could be bought on 8-track tape. His 39th and last HITnRUN Phase Two first reached the public via streaming in September. He cranked out four albums in his last 18 months of life. Those buying his last albums could be the grandchildren of those who roller skated around rinks to “I Wanna Be Your Lover” in 1979.
Nobody else turned a mundane Super Bowl entertainer press conference into an event still babbled about among reporters present. In fact, Super Bowl XLI anthem singer Billy Joel had just made fun of such press conferences when Prince took the Miami Beach Convention Center conference room stage. After a few normal questions, he answered one last question by suddenly swinging into a three-song mini-set with full band backing.
He always had a band. Not that he needed one if not doing one of his heavily produced live shows. Like Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, Prince played a whole band’s worth of instruments as well as those who specialized in those intruments. On For You, he played all 27 instruments.
Though always thoroughly modern, Prince could lay an homage on you as easily as he lay in a bathtub lit with burlesque shadiness during some of his concerts. The sound of Prince’s guitar occasionally nodded to 1960s legend Jimi Hendrix as did the sights of his purple wardrobe. He opened the Super Bowl press conference by covering Chuck Berry’s landmark 1958 piece of guitar lightning, "Johnny B Goode." When Prince wrote Chaka Khan’s 1984 hit "I Feel for You" he threw in a few bars of Wonder’s 1963 hit "Fingertips Part II."
That appreciation likely came from Prince Rogers Nelson’s parents, jazz singer Matte Della and jazz pianist John Lewis Nelson (stage name: Prince Rogers). In addition to music, Prince played basketball in high school, a practice limited by his lack of height.
His musical talent saw no such limitations nor did his musical interest. Funkadelic’s "Who Says A Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" multilayered funk guitars over rock to trash the idea of staying in your musical lane the same year as Prince’s came out with For You. Put his 37-year discography on random and you’d see the perfection in that musical coincidence. Or, just consider that country music star Kenny Rogers recorded Prince songs. Tom Jones covered "Kiss."
He changed his given name to a symbol for a while.
He played under more names than most artists have albums. He fought with his record companies. In an era when artists look for every speck of exposure to stand out in an increasingly vast, Balkanized music scene, Prince could resist his material hitting the Internet to the point of hiring an agency to fight YouTube and eBay. Or, he could be the first major artist to release an album via the Internet (1997’s Crystal Ball) and nine years later receive a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his use of the Internet.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Prince in 2004. The Grammy Hall of Fame did so in 2010.
Though the artist produced original music for almost 40 years, Prince’s signature years were the mid-1980s. While Jackson’s album Thriller and first two singles “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” dominated the Spring 1983 album and single charts, Prince’s 1999 album with the title track and “Little Red Corvette” as the first two singles injected themselves into the pop consciousness enough to start many a Who’s Better? argument in clubs, college dorms and school cafeterias around the world. Two-year-old MTV, still a televised version of radio with wall-to-wall music videos, noticed. The videos of the aforementioned singles became the first from African-American artists to go into MTV’s heavy rotation.
The Who’s Better arguments got louder in 1984, Prince’s popularity peak. He starred in the Purple Rain, a movie loosely based on his life. The soundtrack produced several hit singles, including “When Doves Cry,” the No. 1 song for five weeks on Billboard’s weekly charts and Billboard’s No. 1 song for the year. “Let’s Go Crazy,” the title track and “I Will Die 4 U” shot up the charts in succession. Club and party DJ’s signalled the time had come to get deep down by putting on “Darling Nikki” off Purple Rain, a song most stations deemed too explicitly sexual for airplay, or “Erotic City,” the B-side of “Let’s Go Crazy.” A few months before a USA Today ran a front page story saying only half of Americans polled approved of interracial relationships, Prince sang “I just want your creamy thighs” in “Erotic City” to the joy of diverse listeners and audiences at sold out tours.
The hit shower from Purple Rain soaked the charts as the Prince-written “I Feel for You” made its run up and down the Hot 100 in Fall 1984 and Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls” did the same in 1985.
“Darling Nikki,” “Erotic City,” and “Sugar Walls” sparked Tipper Gore to create the Parents Music Resource Center, which in turn led to the Parent Advisory warnings soon common on popular music.
The name game
Born Prince Rogers Nelson*, the artist has called himself by many names during his decades-long career, for artistic and legal reasons. Among them are:
▪ Jamie Starr
▪ Joey Coco
▪ Paisley Park
▪ Alexander Nevermind
▪ Christopher, or Christopher Tracy
▪ a symbol with no known pronounciation, known as the “Love Symbol”
* He began using his given first name Prince on stage again in 2000