“I am a musician. And I am music.”
Prince was one of the best-selling artists of all time. A gifted composer and multi-instrumentalist, Prince sold over 100 million records worldwide. His 1984 album Purple Rain, and accompanying semi-autobiographical hit movie of the same name, launched Prince, on to international success. The chart-topping Purple Rain sold more than 20mcopies, delivering two US No 1 singles in When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy, and winning Prince the 1985 Academy Award for best original song score. Prince has also won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Prince was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were John Nelson, a musician and Mattie Shaw, a jazz singer. His father who performed with the Prince Rogers Trio decided to name him Prince Rogers Nelson. “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” John once said. Prince’s parents broke up when he was two and he was brought up by his father. “My mom’s the wild side of me, “ Prince once said. “She’s like that all the time. My dad is real serene. It takes the music to get him going. My father and me, we’re one and the same.”
His parents’ divorce had a profound influence on him. When his father gave him a guitar he immediately escaped into a world of chords and melodies where he taught himself the basics. He eventually mastered one instrument after another, and was able to play over 20 different types of instruments. As Prince grew up in Minnesota, he was bullied and developed anger issues. He said, “I was very bitter when I was young. I was insecure and I’d attack anybody. I couldn’t keep a girlfriend for two weeks.” Prince also had childhood epilepsy and suffered from terrible seizures. He later told that before the seizures stopped he tried to compensate by “being noisy and flashy as I could.”
Prince attended Minneapolis’ Bryan Junior High and Central High in the 70s and played American football, baseball and basketball. He was an outstanding basketball player. His former basketball coach described him as being “an excellent player. However, Prince’s musical talent was clear for all to see and he formed his first band Grand Central with André Anderson (who later changed his name to André Cymone) and Morris Day. Over time, Prince developed into Grand Central’s lead singer and frontman, eventually changing the name of the band to Champagne. By 1976, he was creating demo tapes and sending them out far and wide until he caught the attention of a Minneapolis businessman by the name of Owen Husney, who immediately recognized his potential. He signed him up immediately and eventually helped him to gain a meeting with Warner Brothers.
Prince signed with Warners and managed to immediately have complete control over his output. In 1978, on his debut album, For You, Prince was credited on the sleeve with having played 27 different instruments across the tracks on the album. His 1979 eponymously-named album, Prince, went platinum, thanks to the success of tracks such as Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad and I Wanna Be Your Lover. The intensely personal album was full of passion and spoke of wider human truths of love, sex and heartbreak. Controversy (1981) continued playing with the themes of its predecessor, as seen with the dance-oriented title track, which reached No. 3 on the r&b charts, as well as songs like Sexuality and Do Me Baby. Yet as Prince continued to develop his career, he would also be known for tracks that had a deep spirituality, with a yearning for majesty and wonder.
With the release of his 1982 album, 1999, which went multi-platinum, Prince exploded onto the music scene. It seems as if he had been given a gift from the musical gods. There was nothing he could not do, nothing he could not play or sing, no dance move he could not pull off. His music oozed danger and sex appeal, and could not be pinned down to one musical genre. Every song, every dance move, every performance seemed to overflow with sex appeal, with a primal energy, with a desire to leave his audiences wowed…and turned on. In addition, Prince was mysterious; he gave little away, preferring to allow his music to do the talking. 1999 contained hits such as Little Red Corvette, and 1999, as well as the lengthy Automatic and Let’s Pretend We’re Married. Both of those tracks were well over seven minutes long, proving Prince’s willingness to ignore musical convention and follow his own path.
In 1984, with his backing group, The Revolution, Prince went on to create the classic album Purple Rain, which also served as the soundtrack to the film of the same name, grossing almost $70 million at the U.S. box office. Co-starring Apollonia Kotero and Day, the movie garnered an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Alongside Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Purple Rain is the album of the 1980s and contained hit after hit after hit, selling over 20 million copies worldwide. The melancholy title track Purple Rain reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the hits When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy both reached no. 1. When Doves Cry displayed an otherworldly meld of electronic and funk elements without a traditional chorus. The album offered two other hits, I Would Die 4 U and Take Me With U. Prince simultaneously became a well-known visual icon with his trademark curls, flowing jackets and ruffled attire with punk embellishments. However, the Darling Nikki hit incited controversy due to its explicit visuals. After senator Al Gore’s wife Tipper Gore bought the album for their daughter and listened to the track, she eventually pushed for albums to sport labels specifically geared toward parents warning of graphic lyrics.
1985 saw the release of Around the World in a Day, which had the top 10 tracks Raspberry Beret, a whimsical mid-tempo ditty, and Pop Life. The record continued to feature Prince’s penchant for playing a range of instruments and desire to impart messages of self-love as seen with Paisley Park, a track inspired by the name of his Minneapolis studios. In 1986 Prince released his eighth studio album Parade, which included his pulsating no. 1 pop/r&b single Kiss. Parade served as the soundtrack for the artist’s second film Under the Cherry Moon, which he directed and starred in.
Prince careered through the rest of the 1980s on a high, swept along by acclaim from fans and critics alike as he continued to evolve and change his musical style to suit his whim, mixing jazz and pop, R&B and Rock. By the time he released his 11th studio album, the soundtrack to Batman, in 1989, Prince had become one of America’s most commercially successful pop artists, continually making waves on the charts. Batman offered up the no. 1 track Batdance as well as the top 5 r&b hit Partyman. The video for Batdance famously featured Prince in split-effect makeup and costuming meant to symbolize both the film’s shadowy hero and his crazed nemesis, the Joker.
The Revolution were disbanded and replaced by the New Power Generation in 1991. The group was first called out in the soundtrack to Graffiti Bridge, a 1990 sequel to Purple Rain that didn’t fare well at the box office yet still yielded the top 10 track Thieves in the Temple. With the New Power Generation’s artistic contribution, Prince found success with his album Diamonds and Pearls, which rose to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Diamonds included the No. 1 single Cream.
In the fall of 1992 Prince had signed a record $100 million dollar deal with Warners, which was considered “the largest recording and music publishing contract in history” at the time and allowed him the freedom to pursue television, film, book and merchandising deals separately. As a comparison, fellow music giants, Michael Jackson and Madonna, had $60 million-plus contracts that were all inclusive.
However, the 1990s were a decade marked by huge creative rows with Warner Brothers about his musical direction, control and style. The lack of success for Love Symbol Album created tension between Prince and Warner. When Prince appeared with the word SLAVE written on his face at the Brits in 1995, he took the battle public. Determined to wrest ownership of his songs from the label, Prince had begun to deliver albums quicker than Warners wished to release them. They then refused to market The Gold Experience in 1994 — his latest, greatest release since Sign o’ The Times seven years earlier. Enraged, Prince effectively buried his past, renaming himself as an unpronounceable symbol meaning he was widely referred to as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, TAFKAP for short, and refusing to play Prince material live. The shows continued to woo delighted fans and received rave reviews as he treated audiences to thrilling performances packed with new material.
Finally free after reaching a legal settlement with Warners, he fulfilled a longtime ambition by releasing a triple CD Emancipation in 1996, celebrating his marriage to Mayte Garcia as he ended his period of slavery. The couple welcomed their first child shortly after they married but their son, Boy Gregory, died just a week after birth due to Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare defect of the skull. That loss, followed by a miscarriage not long afterward tore the grieving couple apart. Prince and Garcia’s marriage was annulled in 1999 and they were divorced in 2000.
With the increased domestic availability of the internet, Prince was an early adopter and his huge Crystal Ball retrospective became the first album to be distributed on the web. Prince then set up the New Power Generation Music Club, ensuring the immediate release for his music as he put out a range of material including jazz albums and instrumental collections. With the ending of his Warners publishing contract in 2000, he once again assumed the Prince moniker. In 2002, he married Manuela Testolini in Minneapolis. She was 24 and he was 43 when they tied the knot. The marriage lasted five years before Manuela filed for an amicable divorce in 2006.
During the same year as his wedding to Testolini, Prince also became a Jehovah’s Witness, embracing the faith after years of study though he was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist. Prince was believed to have taken part in what’s referred to as field service for his faith, having once visited a Jewish couple in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and leaving behind a copy of the Witness publication The Watchtower.
After several years of relative obscurity, Prince returned to the limelight in 2004 to perform at the Grammy Awards with Beyoncé Knowles, the same year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That spring, he released Musicology with a tour that made him the highest-earning musician of the year. The album won two Grammys and added another dreamy ballad, Call My Name, to the Prince canon. His next album, 3121, was released in 2006. That year, he wrote and performed Song of the Heart for the animated film Happy Feet, and won a Golden Globe (Best Original Song) for the composition. In 2007 he performed for the Super Bowl XLI halftime show on a massive stage shaped as his famous symbol amid pouring rain. The event was watched by 140 million fans.
2010 was the year of accolades for Prince. He not only was lauded by Billboard.com as the greatest Super Bowl performer ever but was also featured in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BET Awards. He ended the year with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Prince also continued to release albums as seen with Planet Earth (2007), LotusFlow3r (2009) and, in a joint deal with the Daily Mirror (UK), 20Ten (2010). 20Ten has been widely hailed as one of his finest albums.
With the advent of the Internet as the primary force for distributing music, Prince was against the trend of having songs shared at will on the web. He railed against the idea of providing his songs to online music platforms without proper upfront compensation and profit-sharing, with his tracks eventually only found on the Jay-Z backed streaming service Tidal. One of the few pop artists to have full ownership of his masters, he was diligent via Web Sheriff in erasing examples of his music, including videos and live performances, from the internet. He was thus behind the Lenz v. Universal Musical Group case, which unsuccessfully pushed for the YouTube removal of a baby dancing to Let’s Go Crazy.
Prince continued to take political stands with his performances as well. On May 2, 2015, Prince staged a Dance Rally 4 Peace at Paisley Park to pay tribute to Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who died in police custody after his arrest in Baltimore, and to show support for the activists protesting his death. With his backup band 3RDEYEGIRL, Prince performed a 41-minute concert including his protest song Baltimore, which was inspired by Gray’s death.
In March 2016, it was announced that Prince was working on a memoir, tentatively titled The Beautiful Ones, that was scheduled for a fall 2017 release. According to Billboard magazine, Prince spoke to an audience at a music industry event about the memoir. “This is my first (book). My brother Dan is helping me with it. He’s a good critic and that’s what I need. He’s not a ‘yes’ man at all and he’s really helping me get through this. We’re starting from the beginning from my first memory and hopefully we can go all the way up to the Super Bowl.”
However, on April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota. The week prior, his plane made an emergency landing and the singer was hospitalized for what was purportedly a severe case of the flu. Early reports by TMZ, though, state that the musician was actually given a life-saving “safe shot” for a Percocet overdose.
Some fans speculated that Prince had even foreseen his own death. He was found unresponsive in a lift in Paisley Park mansion; Prince had bizarrely referenced an elevator in his song Let’s Go Crazy, as well as telling a crowd on the Saturday before his death to “wait a few days” before praying for him. Exactly what he meant by that we will never know, just as the autobiography Prince was penning will now forever remain tragically unfinished.
After an autopsy was performed, Prince’s remains were cremated and his close family and friends gathered for a small, private funeral on April 23.
Almost two weeks after his death, a lawyer revealed that Dr. Howard Kornfeld, a California-based physician who specializes in treatment for those dependent upon and addicted to pain medication, had been called upon by Prince’s team to aid the musician. (The performer had undergone hip surgery some years earlier, and was believed to have endured recurring discomfort while giving concerts.) Kornfeld’s son had reportedly flown to Prince’s compound to initiate the recovery process and was among those who found him dead. While Prince’s state of health at the time of his death is unknown, attorney William Mauzy said the artist “was dealing with a grave medical emergency” when Kornfeld was called, as reported by The Minneapolis Star Tribune.
On June 2, 2016, the Midwest Medical Examiner’s office released the results of its investigation, which determined that Prince died from an accidental overdose of “self-administered” fentanyl, a synthetic opiate.
Prince: Purple Reign 1958-2016 Souvenir Tribute