Prince Rogers Nelson, known simply as Prince, was an international musical superstar famous for his over-the-top fashion, impressive vocal range, and innovative songwriting style, which encompassed rock, R&B, funk, soul, disco, hip-hop, electronic dance, jazz, and pop. The genre-busting musical genius straddled boundaries, be they musical or socially imposed: In his early days, he had a flamboyant, feminine style and embraced both overt eroticism and Christianity. On 1981’s “Controversy,” he asked “Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?”
Only 5-foot-2-inches tall, “The Purple One” possessed a commanding, electrifying stage presence, wherein he flirted with the audience, flaunted his androgynous sexuality, and confronted the sexual taboos of the early 1980s. Prince, who wrote all the parts and played most of the instruments on his albums, also had a reputation for eccentric and controversial behaviors, and eventually adopted both Jehovah’s Witness beliefs and vegetarianism.
In total, Prince sold more than 100 million records globally, which puts him among the best-selling musical acts in history. His honors include seven Grammys, an Oscar, and a Golden Globe, as well as induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also wrote hits for other artists, including Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You,” and the Bangles’ “Manic Monday.”
Born in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958, Prince wrote his first song, “Funk Machine” at age 7 and, as a teenager, played in bands with his cousins including Grand Central, Champagne, and 94 East, the later of which put out an album with Prince-penned songs called “Minneapolis Genius—The Historic 1977 Recordings.” At 17, Prince began recording demo tapes of his own music, and at 19, he released his debut album 1978’s “For You” on Warner Bros., on which he claimed he arranged, composed, and played on all 27 instruments heard on the album.
A year later, his sophomore album, “Prince,” hit platinum sales thanks to hit singles, “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” He continued to put out albums blending funk, dance, and rock music with overtly sexy lyrics, including 1980’s “Dirty Mind,” which went gold, and 1981’s “Controversy,” which marked the beginning of his trademark spelling style, shortening “you” to “U” and “to” to “2,” etc. That same year, Prince developed a side band called The Time featuring Morris Day as the lead singer. Prince wrote and performed most of the music and backing vocals for the band, which released four records between 1981 and 1990.
His next platinum solo record was 1982’s double album “1999,” with a title track protesting the spread of nuclear arms. “Little Red Corvette” was one of the first two videos by black artists played regularly on the new music-video channel, MTV, the other being Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Around this time, the Purple One dubbed his backup band The Revolution.
In 1984, Prince and the Revolution released “Purple Rain” the album and the film, which was a fictionalized account of his life. Both were a smash success: The album spent 24 wee...
The album’s most sexually explicit track, “Darling Nikki,” inspired Tipper Gore to form the Parents Music Resource Center, which pushed the record industry to label albums with content warnings. The Revolution helped Prince record 1985’s “Around the World in a Day” and 1986’s “Parade,” which produced the hit single, “Kiss.” “Parade” also served as the soundtrack for the film, “Under the Cherry Moon,” which became notorious for Prince’s terrible acting and directing.
In 1986, Prince broke up The Revolution, and a year later, released a double album, 1987’s “Sign o’ the Times,” which was widely acclaimed. Singles including “Sign o’ the Times,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” and “U Got the Look,” a duo with Sheena Easton.
Next, he recorded “The Black Album,” which featured more instrumentals, a heavier funk and R&B sound, and Prince’s first forays into hip-hop. The label pressed 500,000 copies of the album, whose all-black cover only featured the catalog number printed in pink on the spine. However, according to associates, Prince took Ecstasy and had a conscience crisis about the violent and erotic nature of the lyrics. He ordered the copies returned a week before its scheduled release date. Only a few hundred European and American promo copies remained in circulation, and the album became a wildly popular bootleg. Prince returned to the studio for eight weeks and recorded the cheerful pop-oriented “Lovesexy,” a 1988 album that features Prince naked on the cover and focuses on positivity, spirituality, and God.
“Batman” director Tim Burton asked Prince to record songs for his upcoming film, resulting in a nine-song soundtrack, which produced the 1989 single “Batdance.” In 1990, Prince released the “Graffiti Bridge” album and film, meant as a sequel to “Purple Rain.” While the film did poorly with critics and audiences, the soundtrack produced the single, “Thieves in the Temple.”
In 1991, Prince introduced his new band, The New Power Generation, and gave a sexually charged performance of new single “Gett Off” in an outfit that exposed his rear end on the MTV Video Music Awards. That single appeared on the upcoming album “Diamonds and Pearls,” also featuring the title track and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night.”
A year later, Prince and his band put out an album with an unpronounceable symbol on the cover; the glyph was later copyrighted as Love Symbol #2 and the album became known as the Love Symbol Album, producing the hit song, “7.” In 1993, Warner Bros. put together a greatest-hits compilation, the three-disc “The Hits/The B-Sides,” which included previously unreleased tracks like a live version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” as well as “Pink Cashmere” and “Peach.”
In 1993, thanks to a legal dispute with his label Warner Bros., Prince changed his stage name to a similar glyph combining the signs for male and female, known as the “Love Symbol,” and in text, he would be called The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, TAFKAP, or The Artist. He made public appearances with the word “slave” painted on his cheek, and began churning out five albums between 1994 and 1996 to fulfill his contractual obligations so he could break with the record company. The recalled “The Black Album” was one of those releases, as was 1995’s “The Gold Experience,” which included the single, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and is now out of print.
Released from his Warner Bros contract in 1996, The Artist put out a 36-song 3-CD set called “Emancipation,” through his own label, NPG Records, which reached platinum status and showcased Prince’s first recorded covers, including Joan Osborne’s 1995 hit “One of Us.” In 1998, he released a five-CD compilation of unreleased material called “Crystal Ball,” which could be pre-ordered online and via telephone. The set arrived in retail stores first, but those lacked the fifth “Kamasutra” disc. His followup album, “Newpower Soul,” flopped.
Prince signed with Arista Records in 1999, where he produced the album “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic,” and despite The Artist’s efforts to do more interviews to promote it, it didn’t sell well. The album was later remixed as “Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic,” which was offered only through Prince’s NPG Music Club in 2000.
Once his publishing contract with Warner Bros. expired, The Artist adopted Prince as his moniker again in 2000. He continued to use the Love Symbol as a logo in his cover art and he kept playing a special-made guitar shaped like the glyph. At that point, he was largely releasing jazz-influenced music through his fan club: 2001’s “The Rainbow Children” and 2003’s instrumental “N.E.W.S.” were available in stores, but 2003’s “Xpectation” was only available for download to fans. Prince also put out his first live album a three-disc box set called “One Nite Alone… Live!”
Through a one-album contract with Columbia Records, Prince released “Musicology” in 2004, which did well on charts in the U.K., Germany, and Australia. Its success in the United States was helped by the fact it was sold packaged with a concert ticket for the wildly popular “Musicology” tour. “Call My Name” and the title track both received Grammys. Responding to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Prince released two singles through his NPG Music Club, “S.S.T.” and “Brand New Orleans.”
Prince then signed with Universal Records and released “3121,” featuring the singles “Te Amo Corazón,” “Fury” and “Black Sweat,” in 2006, and it debuted at No. 1 on the “Billboard” chart. That year, he shut down the NPG Music Club and put out a double-disc greatest-hits and B-sides compilation called “Ultimate Prince.” He also contributed the Golden Globe-winning “The Song of the Heart” to the animated film, “Happy Feet.”
In 2007, Prince performed at both the Super Bowl XLI press conference and the halftime show in Miami, singing “Purple Rain” in the rain on a Love Symbol shaped stage. During the summer, he played 21 dates in London for “The Earth Tour.” The U.K. newspaper “Mail on Sunday” gave away the first copies of his new “Planet Earth” album as a covermount with its paper. The following year, he headlined the Coachella music festival, where he performed Radiohead’s “Creep,” and later demanded that YouTube and other sites remove any recordings of the event (the following year, he posted a video of the performance on his own web site). He also put out the live album “Indigo Nights”—accompanied by “21 Nights,” a book of poems and photos about his London concert series. In 2009, Prince released a triple album set, “LOtUSFLOW3R,” “MPLSoUND,” and an album called “Elixer” credited to his disciple, Bria Valente, which were offered online and in physical formats, as well.
In 2010, Prince debuted two singles “Purple and Gold”—about the Minnesota Vikings playing the Dallas Cowboys—and “Hot Summer” before he put out the album, “20Ten,” which was given away with publications in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and France but not available as a digital download. The next year, though, he released “Extraloveable” as a digital single.
Prince announced a new backing band, 3rdeyegirl, for his “Live Out Loud Tour” in 2013, and also a deal with Kobalt Music. The art for his “Breakfast Can Wait” single, released as a download on the 3rdeyegirl web site, featured comedian Dave Chappelle’s 2000 impersonation of Prince. In 2014, he began a series of more intimate concert for the “Hit and Run Tour.” That year, he put out a single “The Breakdown,” and announced a reunion with Warner Bros., who would release a 30th anniversary deluxe remastered version of “Purple Rain” and give Prince the masters for all the recording he did with the label.
In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in custody of the Baltimore police, Prince released the “Baltimore” single and held a tribute concert for Gray at his recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, called “Dance Rally 4 Peace.” His last album, “HITnRUN Phase One” was released on September 15, 2015, first on the music-streaming service Tidal and then as a CD and download. He performed several “Piano & a Microphone Tour” concerts in 2016 before he passed away at age 57 on April 21, 2016, at Paisley Park. Prince had previously announced plans to publish a memoir in 2016.