S. E. Williams
“I never meant to cause you any sorrow; I never meant to cause you any pain; I only wanted to one time see you laughing; I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.”
Music lovers around the world were shocked into reverence as word spread of the untimely demise of the artist known as Prince.
Genius, icon, poet, activist, musician, producer, pioneer, visionary—those who loved his work were effusive in their use of adjectives to describe the artist, the man.
Prince, who boldly defied the establishment constraints of the music industry was found dead at his Paisley Park Complex in Minnesota Thursday morning. The cause of death is still undetermined.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born to musician parents in June, 1958. Identified as a musical prodigy at a very early age, he composed his first song at the tender age of seven.
He recorded his first album, For You, in 1978; his first platinum selling album Prince in 1979; and, is probably best known for his 1984 groundbreaking album and film—Purple Rain.
Prince’s career spanned nearly forty years and he leaves the world with a musical legacy that may be unparalleled. His song book includes five number one singles and dozens of other single hits and over 40 albums. In addition, it is widely reported he left an archive of thousands of songs that were never released. His genius was recognized and respected both in and outside the music industry. He crossed all genres including rock, disco, funk, R&B and soul and in the process created his own.
Prince, though uniquely creative, was also a fierce businessman. He originally signed with Warner Bros Music in 1977; and in 1992 signed an unprecedented 100-million-dollar contract with the company. After conflicts over issues related to creative control he abandoned his name for a time and became identified by a unique symbol and was referred to by others as ‘the artist formerly known as Prince’. During that period, he also performed with ‘slave’ written on his face—a bold statement in reference to his soured relationship with Warner Bros. and an expression of his sentiments regarding the company’s suppressing control of his prolific creativity. Prince reclaimed his name when the Warner Bros Music contract expired.
Many viewed the artist as eccentric. He was flamboyantly androgynous. He had the uncannily ability to merge what most might view as opposite perspectives. For example, as a man he embraced his sacred feminine; he fused black and white music; merged the stylings of black performers of the 60s and 70s with the edgy and dynamic tones that were uniquely his. Yes, he was a giant in the music industry but Prince was so much more.
Not only was Prince a champion for other artists; he was a champion for his people. He was there financially for the Trayvon Martin family; he headlined a concert and released a song in the memory of Freddie Gray. Always private, always mysterious, Prince was a philanthropist who preferred to do good deeds and yet often remained in the background. His generosity was often as discrete as his private persona—he did not give for recognition or self-aggrandizement; and, his generosity was often conditional—the condition, that it not be disclosed.
Not only was Prince generous, he was a true humanitarian. One of the more recent demonstrations of his commitment to make a difference was his all-in support and advocacy for Yes We Code, an initiative sponsored by the Rebuild the Dream Foundation. Its goal is to teach 100,000 low-income kids to write computer code.
The impact Prince made on the music industry was in a word, transformative. Not only was he prolific in creating his own hits he wrote and produced legendary hits for other artists including such memorable work as Chaka Khan’s “I feel for you”; The Bangles’, “Manic Monday”; and Sinead O’Connor’s, “Nothing compares to you” to name just a few. His salacious lyrics resulted in the parent advisory labels now used to warn parents that certain music may be inappropriate for children. And, Prince along with Michael Jackson, broke the color barrier on MTV.
Prince was iconic. His talent rose above most in his field. Reviewing the credits on many of his works you learn he wrote, produced, arranged, played the instruments, performed the lead and also sang the background.
Prince was truly transcendent. A talented and flamboyantly unique gift to the world.