Prince, original name Prince Rogers Nelson, later called the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, the Artist, and The Symbol was born June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota was a singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer, dancer, and performer on keyboards, drums, and bass who was among the most talented American musicians of his generation.
Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of jazz singer Mattie Della (née Shaw) and pianist and songwriter John Lewis Nelson. All four of his grandparents hailed from Louisiana. Prince was given his father’s stage name, Prince Rogers, which his father used while performing with his mother in a jazz group called the Prince Rogers Trio. In 1991, Prince’s father told A Current Affair that he named his son Prince because he wanted Prince “to do everything I wanted to do”. Prince was not fond of his name and wanted people to instead call him Skipper, a name which stuck throughout his childhood.
Taking an early interest in music, Prince began playing the piano at age 7 and had mastered the guitar and drums by the time he joined his first band at age 14. With very few African American residents, his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was an unlikely site for the development of a major black star, but Prince even managed to lead other local musicians, most notably Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, to major success.
In 1975, Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince’s cousin Shauntel, formed the band 94 East with Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry, hiring André Cymone and Prince to record tracks. Willie wrote the songs, and Prince contributed guitar tracks, and Prince and Willie co-wrote the 94 East song, “Just Another Sucker”. The band recorded tracks which later became the album Minneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings.
Minneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings.
In 1976, Prince created a demo tape with producer Chris Moon, in Moon’s Minneapolis studio.[ Unable to secure a recording contract, Moon brought the tape to Owen Husney, a Minneapolis businessman, who signed Prince, age 19, to a management contract, and helped him create a demo at Studios in Minneapolis (with producer/engineer David Z). The demo recording, along with a produced at Husney’s ad agency, resulted in interest from several record companies including Warner Bros. Records.
With his new recording contract from Warner Brothers Records, Prince released his first album entitled For You. The album was released in 1978, Prince was 20 years old. The album consisted of eight original compositions and a ninth track that was a collaboration with Chris Moon entitled “Soft and Wet.” Moon produced Prince’s demo which eventually landed him his recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. It only seemed fitting for Moon to have his hand in Prince’s first recording project with Warner Brothers. The album For You was performed entirely by Prince, who arranging and performing 27 different instrumental parts. Some of these instruments included guitar, bass, drums, bongos, congas, and an array of synthesized sounds. For a first album at the age of 20 years old, Prince’s For You did not sell very well, but tracks such as “Soft and Wet” and “Just as Long as We’re Together” charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
Things seemed to be aligning for the soon-to-be Pop icon, and in 1979 Prince released his second album that was self entitled. The album Prince went platinum with singles such as “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I wanna Be Your Lover.” The latter sold over a million copies. During this period Prince created a band with André Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, and Bobby Z. on drums. Their first show was at the Capri Theater on January 5, 1979. Warner Bros. executives attended the show but decided that Prince and the band needed more time to develop his music.
From 1980 to 82, Prince Released Three Albums.
The first entitled Dirty Mind had hits such as “Uptown” which charted in the top 5 of the Billboard Dance singles. “Uptown” was named after Prince’s home studio in Minneapolis. This album also contained sexually explicit lyrics on tracks like “Head” and “Sister.” Over the next five years, Prince would continue to use explicit lyrics which would lead to Parental Advisory warning stickers displayed on albums.
Even with it’s raunchy lyrics and subject matter, Dirty Mind melded many different styles together, something Prince had been striving for since signing with Warner Brothers. It had a New Wave sound mixed with funk and R&B. Rolling Stones magazine describes the sound as “utterly new – so stripped down it almost seemed like dub reggae, a music of subtraction.” The album also introduced an image of Prince that crossed racial and gender boundaries, something that would become more apparent in pop culture during the next decade with artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
In 1981, Prince released Controversy. This release led to large performance opportunities such as being the opening band for the Rolling Stones. However, this would be one of the only times Prince opened for any other artist. This album is also is the first time where we see Prince take liberties with abbreviations on track names and liner notes with tracks such as “Jack U Off”, a style of typography that he will continue throughout his career. During this year, Prince also started a side project that was called The Time. This band would record throughout the next decade and featured lead vocalist Morris Day. This side project allowed Prince to continue composing music in the style of his earlier albums, freeing him to explore new musical styles and incorporate them in his own music. This side project also allowed him to produce other artist for Warner Brothers, such as Morris Day. In 1981, Prince also assembled and produced female vocal trio Vanity 6. In fact, these projects gave Prince the opportunity to eventually headline shows, by having his side projects open for him.
Side Acts During 1981 – The Time
In 1982, Prince released 1999 a double albums that was met with huge success selling over three million copies! The track “1999” brought Prince international recognition. It’s about the apocalyspe and is one of the few tracks that hint at Prince’s religious Seventh-Day Adventist upbring. The early 1980’s was also the beginning of MTV and the music video industry. Prince made a music video for his composition “Little Red Corvette” that was one of two videos made by black artists that got played on MTV frequently during this time. The other was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The album 1999 also led to Prince’s first Grammy nomination with the track “International Lover.”
Side Acts During 1982 – The Time & Vanity 6
Prince’s Prolific Period 1984 – 1986
Prince’s prolific period, called the Golden Years by music journalists, culminated in 1984. Leading up to this date, Prince started a new band called The Revolution. Unlike previous bands formed by Prince, The Revolution had a more collaborative role, where members contributed musical ideas of their own without the direction of Prince. The band was a mix-gender, mix-race band that could play in all the styles that influenced Prince, styles from such bands as Fleetwood Mac and Sly and the Family Stone. In 1984, Prince approached Warner Brothers about creating a film, entitled Purple Rain. Surprisingly, the record label agreed to helping finance the movie and enlisted director Albert Magnoli for the project. Magnoli spent a month getting to know Prince and his history. According to Rolling Stones Magazine, Magnoli re-wrote the script several times and settled on a storyline that “focused on the musical rivalry between The Revolution and The Time, and the domestic drama that Prince’s character, the kid, endured at home.” The film was a loose interpretation of Prince’s life. Prince wrote the soundtrack to the film that was released as Prince’s sixth studio album by Warner Brothers. Both the film and the soundtrack were extremely successful! The film grossed over $68 million. The album eventually sold over 10 million copies, and was charted at number one for over 24 weeks. The baseless track “When Doves Cry” also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. This film led Prince to receiving an Academy Award in the category Best Original Song Score and two Grammy Awards in Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. Prince and The Revolution went on tour the November of 1984. Purple Rain was by far Prince’s most successful album up to this point and brought a mega stardom status to Prince’s name. However, to remain successful, Prince would need to reinvent himself multiple times throughout the course of his career.
Side Acts During 1984 – The Time, Sheila E & Apollonia 6.
In 1985, released “Around The World In a Day” departing somewhat from the commercial sound of his previous release, the massively successful Purple Rain (1984). The album instead saw Prince experimenting with psychedelic styles and more opulent textures. In compliance with Prince’s wishes, the record company released the album with minimal publicity, withholding accompanying singles until almost a month after the album’s release. Prince announced that he would discontinue live performances and music videos after the release of his next album. Around the World in a Day, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 for three weeks. From that album, the single “Raspberry Beret” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Pop Life” reached No. 7.
Side Acts During 1985 – Sheila E
In 1986, he released the even stranger Parade, which was in its own way as ambitious and intricate as any art rock of the ’60s; however, no art rock was ever grounded with a hit as brilliant as the spare funk of “Kiss.” Parade reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the R&B charts. The first single, “Kiss”, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album Parade also served as the soundtrack for Prince’s second film, Under the Cherry Moon (1986). Prince directed and starred in the movie, which also featured Kristin Scott Thomas. Although the Parade album went platinum and sold two million copies.
1987–1991: Solo Again
Prior to the disbanding of the Revolution, Prince was working on two separate projects, the Revolution album Dream Factory and a solo effort, Camille. Unlike the three previous band albums, Dream Factory included input from the band members and featured songs with lead vocals by Wendy & Lisa. The Camille project saw Prince create a new androgynous persona primarily singing in a sped-up, female-sounding voice. With the dismissal of the Revolution, Prince consolidated material from both shelved albums, along with some new songs, into a three-LP album to be titled Crystal Ball. Warner Bros. forced Prince to trim the triple album to a double album, and Sign o’ the Times was released on March 31, 1987.
Sign o’ the Times peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The first single, “Sign o’ the Times”, charted at No. 3 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, charted at No. 67 on the Hot 100 but went to No. 12 on R&B chart. The third single, a duet with Sheena Easton, “U Got the Look”, charted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and No. 11 on the R&B chart, and the final single, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, finished at No. 10 on Hot 100 and No. 14 on the R&B chart.
Side Acts During 1987 – Sheila E., Jill Jones & Madhouse
Released on May 10, 1988, Lovesexy serves as a spiritual opposite to the dark The Black Album. Every song is a solo effort by Prince, except “Eye No”, which was recorded with his backing band at the time. Lovesexy reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and No. 5 on the R&B albums chart. The lead single, “Alphabet St.”, peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B chart; it sold 750,000 copies.
The theme of the album is the struggle between good and evil. God and Satan, virtue and sin (although, with the Gemini character that he developed in 1989, these “sides” may also represent “ego and alter-ego”), the perennial themes of Prince’s work, mix as Prince climaxes to “Love is God, God is love, girls and boys love God above” in the song “Anna Stesia”.
With the soundtrack to 1989’s Batman he returned to the top of the charts, even if the album was essentially a recap of everything he had done before. Released on June 20, Prince’s involvement in the soundtrack was designed to leverage the media company’s contract-bound talent as well as fulfill the artist’s need for a commercial revival. The result was yet another multi-platinum successful cross-media enterprise by Warner Bros., in the vein of Purple Rain. The album stayed at number one on the Billboard 200 for six consecutive weeks.
The album was performed entirely by Prince, with a few exceptions: Sheena Easton duets with Prince on “The Arms of Orion”, “Trust” features a sampled horn part by Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss, and “The Future” features strings by Clare Fischer sampled from the then-unreleased 1986 track “Crystal Ball” and samples of the Sounds of Blackness choir. “Batdance” includes a sample of Prince’s technician Matthew Larson, and “Partyman” features the vocal performance of then-girlfriend Anna Garcia (credited as Anna Fantastic). All dialogue sampled on Prince’s Batman album is taken directly from a workprint of Batman and therefore lacks ADR and foley. This is especially noticeable in the beginning of the first track, “The Future”, with dialogue of Michael Keaton speaking as Batman.
Side Acts During 1989 – Mavis Staples
Released on August 21, 1990, Graffiti Bridge was much better received in sales than the film. It reached number 6 in the United States and was his third consecutive chart-topper (following Lovesexy and Batman) on the UK Albums Chart Nearly every song on the record was written by Prince despite the handful of artists performing, including Tevin Campbell, Mavis Staples and The Time. The album produced the hit singles “Thieves in the Temple” and “New Power Generation”, an anthem in two parts celebrating Prince’s newly created backing band, The New Power Generation. “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got”
Side Acts During 1990 – The Time
1991–1996: The New Power Generation and Name Change – from Diamonds and Pearls to Chaos and Disorder
In 1991, Prince formed the New Power Generation, the best, most versatile, and talented band he ever assembled. With their first album, Diamonds and Pearls, Prince reasserted his mastery of contemporary R&B; it was his biggest hit since 1985. The album produced several hit singles, including “Gett Off”, “Cream”, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night”, “Insatiable”, and the title track.
Diamonds and Pearls contains a hybrid of music styles, from the funk of “Daddy Pop”, “Jughead”, and first single “Gett Off”, to some of the more mainstream pop/rock songs Prince had recorded in some time, such as “Cream”, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” and the title song.
Love Symbol is he second of two that featured his backing band the New Power Generation. It was released on October 13, 1992 by Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros. Records. It was originally conceived as a “fantasy rock soap opera” with various spoken segues throughout (with its storyline becoming the basis for the direct-to-video film 3 Chains o’ Gold), and contains elements of R&B, pop, soul, funk, and rock styles.
Its first two singles, “Sexy MF” and “My Name Is Prince”, achieved modest success on the US pop chart, though both made the top ten in the United Kingdom. Conversely, the third single, “7”, was not as successful in the United Kingdom, but was a top ten hit in the United States.
Come was released on August 16, 1994 and at the time of its release, Prince was in a public dispute with his then-record company, Warner Bros. Most of the songs from the Come album were recorded in early 1993 during a highly prolific time for Prince. An early collection of single word-titled tracks included: “Come”, “Endorphinmachine”, “Space”, “Pheromone”, “Loose!”, “Papa”, “Dark”, and “Poem”. It was unknown at this time if these tracks were indeed intended for an album. In late May 1993, Prince’s then band member, Mayte Garcia, sent a letter to a Prince fanzine listing the above tracks, plus a few others: “Interactive”, “Peach”, “Pope”, “Solo”, and “Race”. Most of these songs were newly written, except “Peach” (written in 1992), and “Race” (written in 1991 during the Love Symbol Album sessions—it uses a scratching sound effect similar to Love Symbol Album‘s “The Continental”).
The Gold Experience was credited to his stage name at the time, an unpronounceable symbol (shown on the album cover), also known as the “Love Symbol”. The Gold Experience sold 500,000 copies in the United States and peaked at number six on the Billboard 200, failing to meet the record label’s commercial expectations. According to biographer Jason Draper, it may have undersold because Prince was losing touch with younger listeners and also because his contractual dispute with Warner Bros. Records overshadowed the album’s promotion, which he had done well before it was released.
Prince released Chaos & Disorder, which freed him to become an independent artist. Setting up his own label, NPG (which was distributed by EMI). Prince refused to promote the album, still engaged in his fight against his Warner Bros. contract, and the album was released simply to fulfill his contractual obligations. The single, “Dinner with Delores”, was released in the United Kingdom only and despite the lowkey promotion, became a Top 40 hit, albeit a minor one by his previous standards.
1996–2000: Free At Last – Emancipation, Crystal Ball and Rave
Emancipation was released on November 19, 1996. The title refers to Prince’s freedom from his contract with Warner Bros. Records after 18 years, with which he had a contentious relationship. The album was Prince’s third to be released that year (along with Chaos and Disorder and the soundtrack album of the Spike Lee movie Girl 6), which made 1996 one of the most prolific years for material released by Prince.
Emancipation is something of a concept album, celebrating his release from Warner Bros. as well as his marriage to Mayte Garcia, who became his wife on Valentine’s Day earlier that year. With his newfound creative freedom, Prince experimented more openly with varying genres, including house and blues. Prince also freely commented on his fame and dealings with Warner Bros. (“White Mansion”; “Slave”; “Face Down”) while also returning slightly to the “computer” theme he explored a decade earlier (“Emale”; “My Computer”).
Emancipation marked the first album in Prince’s career to include cover versions of songs written by other songwriters; Prince claimed that he had wanted to cover songs in the past, but was advised against it by Warner Bros. Four such covers appeared on the album: “Betcha by Golly Wow!” (previously a hit for The Stylistics), “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (previously a hit for Bonnie Raitt), “La-La (Means I Love You)” (previously a hit for The Delfonics) retitled “La, La, La Means 👁 Love U”, and “One of Us” (written by Eric Bazilian, and previously a hit for Joan Osborne). Notably, Prince changed the chorus of “One of Us” from “What if God was one of us / Just a slob like one of us” to “…Just a slave like one of us”.
In the United States, the album debuted at number 11. Though not a major seller, it did sell over 500,000 copies, and being three discs, it was qualified to being certified double platinum.
Crystal Ball is a box set by American recording artist Prince. The box set contains Crystal Ball, the twentieth studio album by Prince, which is a three disc set of “previously bootlegged” material, together with a fourth disc containing The Truth, the twenty-first studio album by Prince with 12 new acoustic songs.
It is the first full collection of outtakes and songs from Prince’s legendary “vault”, and contains tracks recorded under the name Prince as well as under the then-current moniker Love Symbol The full album was credited to Love Symbol. The album is largely made up of tracks recorded in two periods: 1985-6 and 1993-6. The only exception is Cloreen Bacon Skin, recorded in March 1983.
No singles were released from the album, and the album reached number 62 on The Billboard 200, and number 59 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums chart.
The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale is the twenty-second studio album by American recording artist Prince. It was released on August 24, 1999 by Warner Bros. Records. The album was submitted to Warner Bros. Records in 1996, complete with artwork at the same time as Chaos and Disorder, but released three years later, shortly before Prince’s Arista album release Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. The album was recorded from 1985 through 1994. It was the last album to be released by Warner Bros. to fulfill his 1992 contract obligations.
“Extraordinary” was released as the album’s only and lead single on August 10, 1999, two weeks before the album’s scheduled release. The song was released as a CD single and sent to mainstream radio on the same day; the CD single included the album version of the single. The single, however, did not manage to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his sixth consecutive single to do so.
Three promotional singles were also released from The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. The first promotional single, “The Rest of My Life”, was released in Japan in 1999 as a promotional CD single, and included “Extraordinary” as the CD’s second track. “5 Women” was the second promo single, also released as a CD single, but exclusively in Germany. The third and final promotional single, “It’s About That Walk”, was also released in Germany.
In 1999, Prince once again signed with a major label, Arista Records, to release a new record, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. Released on November 9, 1999 Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic includes several guest appearances, including by Gwen Stefani, Eve, and Sheryl Crow; Prince also completed a cover of Crow’s 1996 single “Everyday Is a Winding Road”. A pop and R&B album, it departs from the soul genre found on Prince’s previous efforts.
Commercially, the album peaked at number eighteen in the United States and number five in Canada, becoming his most successful album in over three years, with similar results elsewhere. By the end of 1999, the album was certified Gold. The album’s first and only single, “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold”, peaked at number 63 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the album’s only song to chart. Second and third singles, duets “So Far, So Pleased” and “Hot Wit’ U”, were planned for released in summer 2000, but were both cancelled after the album’s lukewarm commercial success. Instead, two promotional singles were released, “Baby Knows” and “Man’O’War”.
2000–2007: Prince Returns – Musicology and 3121
The Rainbow Children was released on November 20, 2001 to retail chains and was also released through Prince’s website earlier in the year. It is the first album released outside of the NPG Music Club to be released under the name of Prince again. Rainbow Children was da jazz-infused circus of sound trumpeting his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that left many longtime fans out in the cold.
Rainbow Children illustrates common Prince themes of spirituality and human sexuality, as well as love and racism, through the fictitious story of a social movement toward a Martin Luther King, Jr.-inspired utopian society. The album seems to allude to his recent conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion, but Egyptian monotheism and New Age concepts such as the Akashic records are used as metaphors as well. Jazzier than any of his previous efforts, it was met with mixed reactions. Some fans saw the album as a musical and spiritual evolution for Prince. Musically, The Rainbow Children marked a shift back towards a more “organic” sound for Prince.
Prince rebounded in 2003 with the chart-topping Musicology, a return to form that found the artist back in the Top Ten, even garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2005.
The album rose as high as the top five on some international charts (including the US, UK, Germany, and Australia). The US chart success was assisted by the CDs being included as part of the concert ticket purchase, thereby qualifying each CD (as chart rules then stood) to count toward US chart placement. Three months later, Spin named him the greatest frontman of all time. That same year, Rolling Stone magazine named Prince as the highest-earning musician in the world, with an annual income of $56.5 million, largely due to his Musicology Tour, which Pollstar named as the top concert draw among musicians in the US. He played 96 concerts; the average ticket price for a show was US$61 (equivalent to $83 in 2019). Musicology went on to receive two Grammy wins, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Call My Name” and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for the title track. Musicology was also nominated for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album, and “Cinnamon Girl” was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Rolling Stone ranked Prince No. 27 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
3121 reinforced Prince’s big comeback after the release of critical success of Musicology (2004). It became the first Prince album ever to debut at number one on the Billboard 200, with over 180,000 copies sold in its first week. It knocked the soundtrack for High School Musical off the top spot, and became Prince’s first number one album since Batman in 1989. Eventually it was certified Gold.
Planet Earth followed in 2007, featuring contributions from Wendy and Lisa. In the U.K., copies were cover-mounted on the July 15 edition of The Mail on Sunday, provoking Columbia — the worldwide distributor for the release — to refuse distribution throughout the U.K. In the U.S., the album was issued on July 24.
The Final Years
Prince’s later albums included Lotusflow3r (2009), a triple-disc set that included a record by Bria Valente, a protégé. In 2014 he returned to Warner Brothers, releasing Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum, the latter of which featured backing by the female trio 3rdEyeGirl. They also appeared on HitnRun: Phase One and Phase Two (both 2015).
Death & Remembrance
Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy later revealed that he had died from an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid. Prince’s ashes were placed into a custom, 3D printed urn shaped like the Paisley Park estate. The urn was placed on display in the atrium of the Paisley Park complex in October 2016.
Numerous musicians and cultural figures reacted to Prince’s death. President Barack Obama mourned him, and the United States Senate passed a resolution praising his achievements “as a musician, composer, innovator, and cultural icon”. Cities across the US held tributes and vigils, and lit buildings, bridges, and other venues in purple. In the first five hours after the media reported his death, “Prince” was the top trending term on Twitter, and Facebook had 61 million Prince-related interactions.