Prince Onstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2004 Induction Ceremony

A Tribute to Prince

Besides being a ferocious guitar player and a magnetic performer, Prince was also a sonic omnivore:

He devoured funk, R&B, rock, synthpop, classic rock and blues—to name a few—and melded them into a singular sound that was defiantly, distinctly his own. He forged a party-minded unity around the various audiences’ shared interests in “dance, music, sex, romance.”

Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis in 1958. He was named after his jazz musician father. The product of a broken home, Prince found refuge in music. By his early teens he’d mastered multiple instruments and was fronting his first band, Grand Central. A demo tape by the young prodigy resulted in major-label interest, and an 18-year-old Prince signed to Warner Bros., insisting on the right to self-produce. His first two albums, For You (1978) and Prince (1979), unveiled a budding genius and one-man band. For You included “Soft and Wet,” an early glimpse at Prince’s uncensored sexuality, while the latter produced Prince’s first hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

Prince’s breakthrough was 1999 (1982). He forged a party-minded unity around the various audiences’ shared interests in “dance, music, sex, romance.” The album launched three major singles: “Little Red Corvette,” “1999” and “Delirious.”

Purple Rain (1984) elevated Prince from cult hero to superstar. His film included electrifying performances by Prince and the Revolution – his racially and sexually integrated band, and won Prince an Oscar for Best Soundtrack. Hits included: “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Take Me With You.” Prince’s hits through the rest of the ‘80s included 1985’s “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life,” “Kiss” (1986), “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” “U Got the Look,” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” (1987), “Alphabet St.” (1988) and “Batdance” (1989). As Rolling Stone contended in 1989, “Perhaps more than any other artist, Prince called the tune for pop music in the Eighties, imprinting his Minneapolis sound on an entire generation of musicians both black and white.”

In the early Nineties, Prince released a string of funky, upbeat hits: “Gett Off,” “Cream,” “Diamonds and Pearls” and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night.” His 1992 release marked the first appearance of the unpronounceable symbol that he would formally adopt a year later as his name. He would go back to using “Prince” in 2000.  In 1994, Prince launched an independent label, NPG Records. Disenchanted with what he saw as an unfairly one-sided relationship between label and artist that rendered the latter a “slave,” he began appearing in public with the word “SLAVE” scrawled on his face while agitating to be released from his contract.  He was let out of his contract with Warner Bros. in 1996.

Liberated from contractual obligations, he quickly resumed his prolific ways. Emancipation (1996), a three-disc set, attested to the artist’s creative explosion. Subsequently, Prince released an average of about an album a year, including 2001’s The Rainbow Children, Musicology (2004), Planet Earth (2007) and HITnRUN Phase One and Two (2015).

Prince passed away on April 21, 2016 at 57. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

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