16 things to know about the legendary musician
Published 10:01 am Friday, April 22, 2016
By Nancy Yang, Cody Nelson and Laura Yuen
Prince, the revolutionary singer, songwriter and musician who put the Minneapolis music scene on the map, died Thursday at Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen. He was 57.
The Purple One was a giant in the music world, penning hits for other artists and widely cited as an influence and mentor by other performers.
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He was born Prince Rogers Nelson in June 1958 to Mattie Della, a jazz singer, and John L. Nelson, a lyricist and pianist.
In 2004, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which hailed him as a musical and social trailblazer.
“He rewrote the rulebook, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music in the ’80s,” the Hall’s dedication says.
“Prince made dance music that rocked and rock music that had a bristling, funky backbone. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous, sly, sexy and provocative.”
He played basketball in middle school and high school.
Prince played basketball at Minneapolis’ Bryant Junior High School and at Central High School, from which he graduated in 1976.
As it turns out, even at just over 5 feet tall, he was actually pretty good.
His ball skills were featured in a classic skit from comedian Dave Chappelle.
He was ill as a child.
Prince was born epileptic, and had seizures as a child.
“My mother and father didn’t know what to do or how to handle it, but they did the best they could with what little they had,” he told Tavis Smiley in 2009.
He produced his debut album at 19.
When he was barely 19, Prince produced his own debut album, “For You,” with Warner Bros.
He sang and played all the instruments himself and became the youngest producer with the label.
In 1979, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” became his first No. 1 hit on the R&B charts.
His “Purple Rain” is Minnesota’s most popular album.
His 1984 album “Purple Rain” and the movie it spawned transformed Prince from cult icon to superstar.
At 13 million copies, “Purple Rain” is the best-selling album to ever come out of Minnesota, and it’s widely ranked as one of the best albums of all time.
Prince performed the title song from the album at Super Bowl XLI in 2007 — in the rain. Years later, Rolling Stone hailed it as one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows, ever.
He put Minneapolis on the musical map.
The film “Purple Rain” solidified Prince’s stature as a mega pop icon and put the Minneapolis music club First Avenue on the national map.
In the movie, Prince and his love interest rode a purple motorcycle to get purified “in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.”
And he was an avid supporter of the local music scene: His final tweet was a link Saturday to the website of The Electric Fetus record store in Minneapolis, where he was selling his Piano & A Microphone concert program.
Electric Fetus retail music manager Bob Fuchs said his store sold out of Prince merchandise in two hours after news broke that Prince had died.
He played a leading role in creating the Minneapolis Sound.
Unlike other musicians from the state, Prince stayed rooted in Minnesota and helped pioneer the Minneapolis Sound, which Rolling Stone described as a “hybrid of rock, pop, and funk, with blatantly sexual lyrics.”
The scene cultivated musicians and producers — Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Appolonia 6, Sheila E., Morris Day, and many others — who would go on to spread their influence throughout the pop and R&B of the 1980s.
Its influence can be heard all the way through to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ 2014 song “Uptown Funk.”
He was prolific.
Prince released 39 albums over a span of 37 years, and had five No. 1 singles, including “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
His catalog is massive — in addition to the studio albums, he’s produced about 160 singles and EPs and well over 1,000 recorded appearances in all, according to Discogs.
Fun fact: His guitar work appears on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”
Prince also worked with several bands throughout his career: Grand Central (later known as Champagne), The Revolution, The New Power Generation and, most recently, 3rdEyeGirl.
He became The Artist in the ‘90s.
He changed his name in 1993 to an unpronounceable symbol during a dispute with his record label, Warner Bros. He was commonly referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”
But he changed it back to Prince after his contract expired in 2000.
He’s also been known as The Purple One, His Royal Badness, The Artist Formerly known as Prince.
He wrote all kinds of other hit songs you probably didn’t realize.
While the seven-time Grammy winner — he also won an Oscar in 1985 for Best Original Score for the film “Purple Rain” — had his own collection of memorable hits, he wrote chart-toppers that he’s not famous for, including:
“Manic Monday”: The Bangles made it famous but it was reportedly originally intended for Apollonia 6, writing under the pseudonym Christopher.
“Jungle Love”: This funk-pop hit by Minnesota musicians The Time was released in 1984.
“Nothing Compares 2 U”: It’s mostly known as a Sinead O’Connor, but it was originally written for The Family, one of Prince’s side projects, in 1985. O’Connor’s version became a hit in 1990.
He used other pen names, too: Alexander Nevermind and Jamie Starr/The Starr Company and Joey Coco.
He was a fierce advocate for creative control.
Always the innovator, Prince removed his catalog from all music streaming services except Tidal, the lossless audio streaming service run by Jay-Z.
He was notoriously protective of his work, once suing fans for $22 million over bootleg recordings.
Still, he apparently saw hope for digital music in Tidal, throwing his whole support behind the site and giving it the exclusive release for two of his recent albums.
In the summer of 2015, Prince held a dance party at Paisley Park for attendees of the National Association of Black Journalists, who were convening in Minneapolis for their annual conference.
A longtime advocate for creative control, Prince told a group of 10 journalists there that record contracts were like “slavery.”
He was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people in the world.
In 2010, he was named to Time’s yearly list. In an essay for the magazine, R&B star Usher wrote that Prince inspired his second hit — and was a role model when he was first getting interested in music.
“I think I was about 8 or 9 when I saw Purple Rain. I was interested in music and trying to find a model. It was Michael, or it was Prince. He had an attitude, a rawness that Michael didn’t have. He was not urban, but he was our version of what cool could be. You look at an icon like James Dean or Steve McQueen — they represent a certain energy, a certain poise. That’s what Prince has.
He got involved in the Black Lives Matter movement — through music.
Last May, Prince released a protest song called “Baltimore” after a black man named Freddie Gray died in police custody, sparking a wave of protests in the city and charges against the officers involved.
“If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace,” he sings in the song’s bridge.
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis memorialized Prince on its Facebook page hours after he died.
He helped inspire Kendrick Lamar’s latest album.
The album, “Untitled, Unmastered,” came out in March.
“As far as Untitled, Me and Kendrick always talked about doing a sort of Black Album, like how Prince did back in the day,” Top Dawg Entertainment Co-President Terrence “Punch” Henderson told Billboard. “There was no album cover, no song titles, no anything — just tracks he threw out.”
Prince almost ended up collaborating on Lamar’s earlier album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which has become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“[Prince] said he wanted to talk about the beauty of black people,” Lamar’s collaborator Rapsody told The Grammys. “I told him to say no more.”
Lamar said Prince didn’t make the cut because “we just ran out of time.”
He mentored legions of proteges.
Throughout his career, Prince championed women in the music business. Many of his band members were women — including his most recent band, 3rdEyeGirl — during generations where the music industry was dominated by men.
He also worked to bring up the careers of younger female artists like Denise “Vanity” Matthews, Sheila E., Appollonia Kotero and Wendy & Lisa.
“Purple Rain” was remade in Niger — in a language that doesn’t have a word for “purple.”
According to NPR:
Three decades after the film first premiered, it got a remake filmed in Niger, featuring members of a nomadic group of people known as the Tuareg.
It’s called Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai — which translates to “Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It.” That’s because there’s no word for “purple” in Tamajeq, the language spoken by the Tuareg.
He had a memoir in the works.
Prince announced in March that he was writing a memoir, called “The Beautiful Ones.” One of his literary agents told the Wall Street Journal that day that Prince had already submitted 50 pages to editors.
Rolling Stone called it “one of the most anticipated memoirs in music history.”
It was set to be published in the fall of 2017.
For more about Prince, see “Saying goodbye to the Prince of Pop”