Iconic singer leaves behind prolific, groundbreaking catalog….
Prince, the legendary and innovative musician and actor, has died at age 57. TMZ reported Thursday that the Carver County Sheriff’s department responded to an emergency call at the singer’s Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota at 9:43 that morning. A rep for the singer confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
A week ago, the singer was hospitalized after his private plane made an emergency landing after a show in Moline, Illinois. Varying reports said he was suffering dehydration and was getting over the flu. He was released after three hours and flew to Minneapolis, where he was recovering at home. He’d canceled some dates of his “Piano and a Microphone” tour in early April because of the flu, TMZ previously reported.
Over the course of nearly four decades, Prince became an icon of artistry and individuality. Few artists defined and redefined pop, rock, R&B, funk, soul and nearly every musical genre imaginable like Prince, who issued his debut album in 1978.
He embraced controversy, presenting himself as an androgynous sex fiend in his album art and lyrics, and challenged conservative music ideals in his first decade on albums like 1999, Purple Rainand Sign ‘O’ the Times.
A singular force, he famously performed, produced and wrote nearly all of his own songs at the beginning of his career and would go on to build a music empire out of his home near Minneapolis as he expanded his musical vocabulary. Four of his albums topped the Billboard 200, and the RIAA awarded 20 of his LPs with gold, platinum and multiplatinum plaques.
At the peak of his career in the early Eighties, Prince embraced acting. He starred in the 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain and would go on to appear in 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, the latter two of which he also directed. He also wrote the screenplay for Graffiti Bridge.
He was also an iconoclast. He went against the grain of the music industry, renaming himself as an unpronounceable symbol at a time when he was protesting his record contract and refusing to bow to emerging formats like online music streaming. He distributed albums to concertgoers along with their tickets when that was a novel concept, and he planned other tours at the spur of the moment, dubbing them “hit and run” shows.
Prince won several awards for his music in his lifetime. His first major trophy was a Grammy for his Purple Rain album in 1984; that same year, he also won a Grammy for writing “I Feel for You,” which Chaka Khan had made a hit. The next year, he took home an Oscar for the Purple Rain score in 1985. The following year he earned another Grammy for “Kiss,” and won two more in 2004 for the songs “Musicology” and “Call My Name,” both of his 2004 album Musicology. In 2007, he earned another for “Future Baby Mama,” off his Planet Earth LP. He won several MTV Music Video Awards dating back to the mid Eighties and he won a Golden Globe for “The Song of the Heart,” which appeared in Happy Feet.
Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7th, 1958 in Minneapolis. His father, John Nelson, was the leader of a jazz band in the area, and his mother, Mattie, was a vocalist for the ensemble. “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” his father once said. An autodidact, Prince began playing piano at age 7, guitar at 13 and drums the next year.
He joined a band called Grand Central, which eventually changed its name to Champagne, when he was 14. At age 18, he made a demo tape with an engineer named Chris Moon. When local businessman Owen Husney heard the tape in 1978, he helped negotiate Prince’s first recording contract, with Warner Bros. Records, which granted him unprecedented autonomy for a new signing, let alone an artist his age.
That same year, Prince earned his first hit, the lubriciously titled “Soft and Wet,” a song that would appear on that year’s For You, his first album. The single stalled at Number 92 on the Top 100 but reached Number 12 on the R&B chart. He flirted even more with overtly erotic innuendoes on his 1979 single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (sample lyric: “I wanna be the only one that makes you come [dramatic pause] running!”), which would become his breakthrough song. The track, which appeared on his self-titled sophomore LP, reached Number 11 on the Top 200 and topped the R&B chart. The album was home to a couple of other genre hits, including “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “Sexy Dancer,” and it established him as a hit maker.
When it came time to tour for Prince, the artist took a cue from Sly and the Family Stone and put together a band of musicians of different races and genders. Around this time, he would sometimes strip down to bikini underpants and do exercise routines onstage. By 1980, Prince was certified platinum.
Despite the pop success of Prince, the artist delved deeper into sexually explicit lyrics on his next two albums, 1980’s Dirty Mind and the following year’s Controversy. The former contained the hits “Uptown,” “Dirty Mind” and “Head,” but garnered controversy for the song “Sister,” which extolled the virtues of incest. The record also contained “When You Were Mine,” a song that Cyndi Lauper and Mitch Ryder would later cover. The latter album – which fully embraced its title – was the last of Prince’s early recordings to miss the Top 10, but it nevertheless was home to the hits “Controversy,” a song that toyed with people’s perceptions of him (“Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? “) and “Let’s Work.”
Prince’s fifth album, the 1982 double-LP 1999, made him a superstar. The album reached Number Nine thanks to the strength of a number of unique crossover singles: “Little Red Corvette” (a song in which Prince is sexually objectified by a woman), “1999” (which found him splitting lead vocals with his bandmates), the giddy “Delirious” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” The video for “Little Red Corvette” was also one of the first videos to break MTV’s race barrier, establishing him as a mainstream artist. The album would be certified quadruple platinum in 1999.
During the particularly productive time surrounding 1999, Prince also began writing and producing songs under the pseudonym Jamie Starr for two other groups, the local group the Time and a trio of women he assembled, Vanity 6. The Time scored R&B hits with “Cool” and “777-9311,” both of which Prince would perform at his own concerts for years to come. Meanwhile, Vanity 6 featured the artist’s girlfriend at the time, Denice Matthews, as its frontwoman. He’d initially suggested she take the stage name Vagina but changed it to Vanity after she refused. They scored a hit with “Nasty Girl,” another song he would sing at his own shows live. After his relationship with Vanity ended, he recruited Apollonia Kotero as their frontwoman and renamed the group Apollonia 6. Vanity, who later became born again and denounced her work with Prince, died earlier this year.
In 1984, Prince released his biggest-selling album, Purple Rain, a tie-in to the blockbuster movie of the same name, which came out the same year. The album has sold more than 13 million copies, with the quasi-autobiographical film featuring Prince, as the Kid, struggling on Minneapolis’ local music scene and competing with the Time as his home life falls apart.
The film featured him performing several songs from the album live and created a perfect platform for him to launch a string of hit singles. The guitar-infused R&B song “When Droves Cry” and pop-rock masterpiece “Let’s Go Crazy,” both hit Number One, while the epic “Purple Rain” – which features one of Prince’s most lyrical guitar solos – reached Number Two. The serenely New-Wave “I Would Die 4 U” would make it to Number Eight, while the mid-tempo pop sing-along “Take Me With U” made it to Number 25.
It was the first record to credit his backing band, the Revolution, and it set the stage for a major tour, for which Sheila E. opened. Prince produced her The Glamorous Life album in 1984.
The album also contained “Darling Nikki,” an unusual song in which the titular character is a sex fiend who is caught masturbating. In Purple Rain, the movie, the song serves as a metaphor for the Kid’s frustration after he learns that Apollonia has begun working with the Time. In real life, it sparked its own controversy when the 11-year-old daughter of then-Senator Al Gore played the song and prompted her mother, Tipper Gore, to form the Parents Music Resource Center in an effort to warn people about what she described as pornographic lyrics. It had little effect on Prince’s popularity, but the resultant group would inspire the record industry to begin voluntarily stickering albums with parental advisory warnings.
The following year, he declined the opportunity to take part in “We Are the World” but instead contributed his own “4 the Tears in Africa” to the USA for Africa album. He also began working with another artist, Sheena Easton, writing her hit “Sugar Walls,” another song that would become a target of the PMRC.