The dazzlingly talented and prolific musician, formerly and currently known as Prince died on 21 April 2016, aged 57. He leaves behind a legacy of classic pop music that spanned multiple genres. He will be fondly remembered for his output, consummate musicianship, exceptional production skills and dazzling live performances.
Although he could play anything, the electric guitar was his main instrument and he was hugely respected amongst the world’s best guitarists. He also championed the cause of female musicians that went beyond his obvious love of women, putting together mixed and sometimes all female bands that had to be exceptional players just to be allowed on the same stage as the great man.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis on 7 June 1958. His father, John Nelson, was leader of the Prince Rogers jazz trio, and met his wife-to-be, Mattie Shaw, when playing at community dances on Minneapolis’s North Side. Mattie joined the Prince Rogers trio as vocalist, but dropped after she married. The couple named their son after John’s stage name. In 1960 his sister, Tyka, was born.
His parents separated when Prince was 10, and he would alternate between living with his father and with his mother and her new husband, Hayward Baker. It was Baker who took the boy to see James Brown perform, an event that had a profound influence on his approach to writing and performing.
Prince befriended his neighbour’s son Andre and together they joined a band at Minneapolis’s central high school called Grand Central, which also included Prince’s cousin Charles Smith on drums. They played covers, arranged by Prince. The group became Champagne, and acquired a new drummer, Morris Day, who later became lead singer with the Time and had prominent roles in Prince’s movies Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge (1990).
Demo tape and record deal
In 1976 Prince made a demo tape of his own material with the engineer Chris Moon, which caught the ear of a Minneapolis businessman, Owen Husney. He signed Prince to a management contract, forming the company American Artists, and funded the recording of high-quality demos which attracted interest from several record labels. Prince accepted the deal with Warner Bros, which gave him a rare degree of artistic control as well as ownership of his publishing rights.
On his first album, For You (1978), Prince wrote and performed everything himself. The first single Soft and Wet sold 350,000 copies and reached No 12 in the US R&B chart.
The following January, Prince unveiled his new band at the Capri theatre in Minneapolis, a funk-rock ensemble featuring Andre Cymone on bass alongside keyboard players Gayle Chapman and Matt Fink, guitarist Dez Dickerson and drummer Bobby Z. His second album, Prince, appeared in October 1979, he had switched to Earth Wind & Fire’s management, Cavallo & Ruffalo. The album reached 22 in the Billboard 200, and would eventually sell a million copies as well as generating his first major hit with I Wanna Be Your Lover.
This early success set him well on his way with his prolific output of albums, live performances that saw the release of the film and album ‘Purple Rain’. The first single from the album ‘When Doves Cry’ topped the topped the US charts in 1984 and sealed Prince’s fame as a major international figure in the world of music.
He never at any point relented in his prolific output, releasing the epic double album Sign o’ the Times in March 1987. This produced a fresh batch of hit singles, including the title track, U Got the Look (featuring Easton) and I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.
He continued to release albums and tour to mixed commercial success, however the soundtrack to the Tim Burton Batman movie in 1989 was a multi-platinum US chart-topper which gave him another US No 1 with Batdance.
His $100 million record deal with Warners came at price when he found that the contract deprived him of ownership of his master recordings. The Love Symbol Album (which reached No 5 in the US and No 1 in Britain) was a harbinger of things to come, since in 1993 Prince changed his name to what he called “that symbol on the album”. Prince clashed with Warners who wanted to slow the the release of albums which prompted him to write the word ‘Slave’ on his cheek whenever he appeared in public.
In 1996 on Valentine’s Day that year he married a 22-year-old backing singer and dancer, Mayte Garcia, but in October their son Gregory died one week after his birth because of a rare skull defect, Pfeiffer syndrome. It drove the couple apart; they divorced in 2000.
In 2001 he had married Manuela Testolini, whom he met while she was working at his charitable foundation. They divorced five years later. In 2001 Prince joined Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Prince has continued his incredible musical output culminating in small-scale Hit and Run UK Tour in February 2014. Even more surprising than his performance at the home of singer Lianne La Havas was news that Prince had signed a new deal with Warner Bros after an 18-year gap.
Prince’s death followed medical treatment during his most recent Piano and a Microphone tour. Prince Rogers Nelson died aged 57. He is survived by his elder sister Tyka.by