It’s hard to believe how many huge musical icons have passed away in 2016. Of course David Bowie, the British glam-rock superstar, died this January. Merle Haggard, a founding figure of outlaw country music, died recently, and so did George Martin, who produced all The Beatles’ albums. Rapper Phife Dawg from influential hip hop ground Tribe Called Quest died this year, and so did members of the bands Jefferson Airplane, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and The Eagles. Earlier today, we lost one of the most successful and influential musicians of all time. Prince was found dead today at Paisley Park, his home and recording studio. He was fifty seven.
Prince, like David Bowie, was a singular entity in the music industry. During his lifetime and musical career, he pushed the boundaries of music, image, and sexuality. He was incredibly prolific and productive during his musical career, putting out around one album every year during his peak years and touring extensively. He worked with various bands outside of his main project in a variety of capacities, and he was heavily awarded in his lifetime, winning Grammys and an Oscar. He was iconic as a songwriter and singer, and had virtuosic talent on the guitar. His live shows were the stuff of legends, as he had so much material to draw from and would regularly play sets in excess of three hours. In addition to having a large fan base and being one of the most popular musicians in the world, Price has a reputation for being a “musician’s musician.” After his death was announced today, there was and will continue to be a significant outpouring of tributes and public mourning from his fellow musicians.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1958 to two African-American musician parents. As a child, Prince had the nickname of “Skipper,” and he was a sickly child who was susceptible to epileptic fits. He got involved with music as a young child, writing his first song when he was only seven years old. His youthful years were turbulent when his parents split up, and he bounced around from home to home. He continued to learn how to play various instruments, and joined his first real band when he was in high school. He played piano and guitar and sang, and the band would play cover versions of funk and soul songs at parties and clubs around Minneapolis.
Prince’s Early Musical Career
Prince’s professional music career took off at a young age. He recorded a demo album at the age of seventeen and it was sent to record labels. He signed a deal with Warner Bros and moved to California. On his first album he is credited as having played all of the twenty seven instruments that are featured on the recordings, and spent double the budget he was allocated. His early albums were immediately fairly successful. His first album charted highly, and his second album, simply called Prince, went platinum. Among his iconic idiosyncrasies that became known at this time were his affinity for the colour purple, and his fondness for replacing the word “you” with “U” in his song titles.
Prince’s Middle and Later Musical Career
In the mid ’80s, Prince’s live show became highly regarded and he referred to his band as The Revolution. In 1984, Prince released his landmark album and magnum opus, Purple Rain. The album spent a ridiculous twenty four weeks atop the Billboard charts, and sold over thirteen million units in the United States alone. A film was made under the same name and it won an Academy Award and made over $80 million dollars in the United States. The album Purple Rain is widely regarded as one of the greatest pop and rock albums of all time, and spawned some huge singles like “When Doves Cry,” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Prince continued to release critically revered album after critically revered album, keeping himself atop the charts with constant releases and touring the world endlessly. In 1993, Prince changed his name into an unpronounceable symbol. The symbol is said to be a combination of the symbol for male and female, and was referred to as The Love Symbol. During this time, people had a hard time referring to Prince in the media because his name was not pronounceable. As such, he was referred to as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, TAFKAP, or sometimes The Artist. He would later change his name back to Prince.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Prince continued to churn out music with varying success. Though his albums always sold at least hundreds of thousands of copies in times of fading record sales, sometimes his experiments flopped. Currently, he is one of the only high-profile musicians in the world who’s catalog is hardly available in any form on the internet. His music is instantly removed from video sharing websites like YouTube, and cannot be found on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, except for his latest release which can be found on some platforms. In 2007, Prince played at the Super Bowl halftime show. He played songs from Purple Rain and other albums, and it is considered to be one of the greatest Super Bowl performances of all time. He continued to play high-profile television shows, and headline massive festivals like Coachella late into his career.
Personal Life and Death
Throughout his life, Prince lived in or around Minnesota. As a musician, he was considered to be a sex symbol, and this carried over into his personal life as he was often engaged in high-profile relationships with other musicians and celebrities. Some of the women Prince dated during his life include Madonna, Kim Basinger, Carmen Electra, and Sherilyn Fenn. In the ’80s, he was engaged to Susannah Melvoin, and when he was thirty seven he got married to a twenty two year old backup dancer of his, Mayte Garcia. The two of them had a child, but sadly the child had Pfeiffer syndrome and died a week after it was born. He was married again in 2001, but was divorced in 2006.
Prince was a vegetarian throughout his life, and became a Jevoha’s Witness in 2001. Earlier this year, he announced that he had began to write a memoir about his life, but it seems unlikely that he completed it before his death.
Earlier this month, Prince cancelled two of his shows, saying that he had the flu. Last week, it was reported in the media that Prince’s private jet had to make an emergency landing because he was sick and needed to be taken to hospital immediately. Again, it was reported that he was suffering from flu-like symptoms. He had performed a concert the night before the plane incident. This morning at 10am, he was found dead in the elevator of his Paisley Park complex. Emergency responders were said to have made unsuccessful attempts to revive him once he was found. An investigation into the actual cause of his death is ongoing.
Legacy and Tributes
The outpouring of support and love for Prince following the announcement of his death his been immense and widespread. R&B singer Frank Ocean, in a statement, credited Prince as giving him the courage to express himself musically and take risks. Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame, said he had difficulty breathing when he heard the news and asked “why does it hurt so bad?” Singer The Weeknd tweeted that he felt like he was dreaming when he heard the news, and said that when he met Prince it was the greatest moment of his life. Madonna posted an Instagram picture of the two of them together, with a caption that said Prince changed the world. The band MGMT posted that saying that Prince influenced their music is like saying that lava is warm.
Prince will be remembered as one of music’s great multi-instrumentalists and style icons. He was endlessly creative, remarkably productive, and redefined what American music was in the ’80s and ’90s.