Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson June 7, 1958) is a popular musician. His music has spanned myriad styles including funk, rhythm and blues, psychedelia and rock and roll. Many critics refer to the quality of his work and its versatility as being indicative of musical genius.
Uptown: Early years
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Mount Sinai Hospital on June 7, 1958, to John L. Nelson and Mattie Shaw, both jazz musicians. There are a number of myths regarding Prince's ethnicity, some spread by Prince himself. The most pervasive is that he is the child of a black father and white mother, a myth later bolstered by the cult film Purple Rain starring Prince, Morris Day of The Time, and pop singer Apollonia. However, both Prince's parents are African-American, and, like many African-Americans, their lineage is an amalgam of ethnicities.
Prince's parents separated and he had a troubled relationship with his stepfather causing him to run away from home. He lived briefly with his father, who bought him his first guitar. Later, Prince was adopted by the Andersons and became friends with their son Andre Anderson (later called Andre Cymone).
Prince and Anderson joined Anderson's cousin Charles Smith in a band called Grand Central formed in junior high school. By the time Prince had entered high school, Grand Central evolved into Champagne and started playing original music already drawing on a range of influences including Sun Ra, Sly Stone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Joni Mitchell.
Prince became a central figure of 'Uptown,' a 1970s underground funk scene in Minneapolis which also included Flyte Time, Jellybean Johnson, Terry Lewis and Alexander O'Neal. In 1976, he started working on a demo with producer Chris Moon in a Minneapolis studio. He also had the patronage of Owen Husney who Moon introduced him to allowing him to produce an excellent quality demo. Husney started contacting major labels and ran a clever campaign promoting Prince as a star of the future, resulting in a bidding war eventually won by Warner Bros., who offered him a long-term contract.
Controversy: Early career 1977–83
In 1977, with the professional assistance of his cousin's husband, Pepe Willie, Prince recorded his first album entitled Minneapolis Genius. The local band that Prince played with on the album was listed as 94 East. For reasons which have never been disclosed by Prince, he never acknowledges the existence of this album. Even the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lists his first album as, For You—which was recorded in 1978. This album had no band on it—Prince supposedly played all 26 instruments on the album himself. He spent twice his advance on recording the first album which sold modestly reaching the bottom reaches of the Billboard 200 but the single 'Soft And Wet' performed well on the R&B charts.
By 1979, Prince had recruited his first backing band with Cymone on bass, Gayle Chapman and Matt Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z on drums and Dez Dickerson on guitar. This lineup recruited a self-titled album which made the top 40 of the US album charts and contained two r&b hits in 'Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad' and 'I Wanna Be Your Lover'
Ambitious, talented and hardworking, if sometimes overstretched, Prince tried to bring modern ideas and attitudes into pop music. He first attracted attention with his spacey soulful sound topped with screaming guitar, not to mention the colorful clothes he put on his 5 ft 2 inch frame. In his early years, he liked to dress in a suspender belt and lacy women's lingerie.
In 1980, Prince released the Dirty Mind album which established him as a critical favourite. Lisa Coleman replaced Chapman in the band with Andre Cymone also leaving the band for a solo career. Dirty Mind also was notable for its sexually explicit material such as the song 'Head'. Tipper Gore would form the Parents Music Resource Center in 1984 after hearing the sexually explicit 'Darling Nikki' from the Purple Rain record. This would eventually result in Parental Advisory stickers on record covers.
Prince supported Rick James in a 1980 tour with the label 'punk funk' being applied to both artists although it didn't sit comfortably with Prince who did not consider that there was a significant punk influence in his music. He released the album Controversy along the lines of Dirty Mind with the single from the album making international charts for the first time.
Prince also wrote produced the debut album for The Time, containing former members of Flyte Time, including frontman Morris Day. They would be the first of the proteges who Prince would assist in the next decade including Vanity, Apollonia and Sheila E. He would also write hits for artists such as Sheena Easton and The Bangles and his songs would be covered in hit versions by artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Tom Jones with The Art of Noise and Sinéad O'Connor.
Purple reign: Chart success 1983–1993
Prince was backed in the 80s by The Revolution, and in the 90s by The New Power Generation. He has gained attention for hiring and recording with women considered attractive or sexy, including Sheena Easton amongst others. He also worked on different occasions with famous jazz and funk musicians, such as Miles Davis, Larry Graham and Maceo Parker. Prince has also recorded with Ani DiFranco, Madonna, and Gwen Stefani.
In 1983 Prince released the 1999 album which proved to be a breakthrough album both in the US and internationally selling over three million copies. The title track managed both to make a protest about nuclear proliferation, fill dance floors around the world and become his first top ten hit internationally. With 'Little Red Corvette' he joined Michael Jackson as part of the first wave of black artists on MTV and 'Delirious' also went top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. The album was also a critical smash rated as a career highlight with the All Music Guide rating it as five stars out of five.
The release of Purple Rain along with the film of the same name would establish Prince amongst the top rank of popular musicians in the 1980s. It would sell over thirteen million copies in the US alone and spend 24 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. 'When Doves Cry' and 'Let's Go Crazy' would both top the US singles charts and be smash hits around the world while the title track would go to number two on the Billboard Hot 100. The album is also a critical favourite again being rated in the top 100 of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time released in late 2003. When she overheard her 12 year-old daughter, Karenna, playing 'Darling Nikki', Tipper Gore founded Parents Music Resource Center.
In 1985, Prince briefly decided to give up live performances and making videos on the release of Around The World In A Day which went to the top of the US album charts for three weeks. It also saw the opening of a luxurious recording studio at Paisley Park which was also the name of a track on the album. Prince's momentary ban on videos ended as the album stalled in the charts with a video for 'Raspberry Beret' which reached number two on the Billboard 100.
Prince directed the 1986 movie Under The Cherry Moon and appeared in it: however, it would not do well at the box office. The Parade album contained tracks from the movie and went to number 3 on the Billboard album chart and number two on the R&B album charts. The first single, 'Kiss,' would top the Billboard Hot 100 with the song 'Manic Monday' by the Bangles at number 2 - Prince had written this song as well under the pseudonym of Christopher. Prince decided that his ban on touring was a mistake and went back on the road for the Parade tour.
Prince is allied with the tradition of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke in mixing spirituality and sensuality, 'I Would Die 4 U,' for instance, which can be compared to Gaye's 'Sexual Healing,' with its not so subtle reference to Jesus. The track 'The Cross,' off Sign O' The Times, is a stronger reference to Prince's Christian beliefs. Sign O' The Times released in 1987 as a double album, reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 and is regarded as one of his greatest albums reaching the top 100 of the Rolling Stones top 500 albums. In 1987 a movie was shot of the Sign '0' the Times Tour in Rotterdam and Antwerp.
In 1987 Prince recorded The Black Album, a funk-oriented album whose erotically charged lyrics were considered so blatant, Prince decided not to officially release it. The album circulated through the bootleg underground music world until it was finally given an official release in 1994. While The Black Album was ascribed to Prince's bad side described at the time as Spooky Electric, the 1988 album Lovesexy was ascribed to Camille or his good side. Lovesexy was a relative disappointment in its chart performance only reaching number 11 on the Billboard 200.
However, Prince would record the soundtrack for Batman which would return him to the top of the US album charts and the single 'Batdance' would reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and be a worldwide hit. Prince released the film sequel to Purple Rain, titled Graffiti Bridge, which performed poorly at the box office. The soundtrack featured Prince on one side and other artists such as Tevin Campbell, Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers and Morris Day. It would reach a peak of number 6 in the US and number one in the UK.
The Diamonds & Pearls album in 1991 gave Prince another big hit on the album charts with the song 'Cream' giving him his fifth US number one single. Diamonds & Pearls also marked the debut of the New Power Generation featuring rapper Tony M, Rosie Gaines on vocals, Michael Bland on drums, Levi Seacer and Kirk Johnson on guitar, Sonny T on bass and Tommy Barbarella on keyboards.
Prince's 12th album bore an indecipherable symbol and was called The Love Symbol album. It reached the top ten of the US album charts. In 1993, he would change his name to the symbol (see below) which marked the start of a decade of declining commercial and critical success.
Prince is regarded as one of top live acts in the music business, often performing not only in large arenas, but also late at night in small clubs for a selected audience. He maintained a strong live following despite spending most of the 1990s and early 2000s in commercial exile.
Chaos and disorder: 1994–2003
Prince released a greatest hits package in 1993 which failed to do as well as one would suspect from an artist with his track record. In order to meet his contractual obligations with Warner Brothers, Prince released the Black Album in 1994. The track 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World' was released independently via his own NPG Records and was very successful - this was not to be a forerunner of what was to come. Warner Brothers released the Come album which was moderately successful going gold. Due to his ongoing dispute with Warner Brothers, Prince was refusing to release his album The Gold Experience in 1995. When eventually released, it failed to sell well although it reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 initially.
The Chaos & Disorder album of 1996 was his final for Warner Brothers and one of his least successful. He released the 3-disc Emancipation album in 1996 via NPG Records with distribution through EMI. It failed to do as well as he had hoped with many people thinking it lacked focus.
Prince released The Crystal Ball, a four-CD collection of unreleased material, in 1998. The distribution of this album was shambolic with some fans who pre-ordered the album on his website not receiving the album for months after the record had gone on sale in the stores. The New Power Soul album released three months later failed to make much an impression on the charts as many fans failed to realise it was out.
His 1999 album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic released through Arista Records also failed to make much of a commercial impression as did a release of Warner Brothers outtakes. The greatest success he had during the year was with the single 1999 which was re-released for the new millennium. For the next three years, Prince primarily released new music through his internet subscription service, npgmusicclub.com. He also released two smooth-jazz influenced albums, The Rainbow Children in 2001 and the all-instrumental NEWS in 2003.
In 2003, Prince's lawyer, Londell Macmillan, confirmed his client had become one of Jehovah's Witnesses and that the star was 'very committed' to them. As a consequence, he no longer performs many of his more sexually explicit songs such as 'Darling Nikki' in concert. He signed a deal with Sony Music to distribute future albums through his NPG label. He released the Musicology album on April 20, 2004. It was his best received album critically since Diamonds & Pearls and reached the top 5 of the Billboard album charts upon release. People who brought tickets to his Greatest Hits Tour of 2004 received a copy of Musicology with the cost forming part of the ticket price. Prince and Sony negotiated to have each copy given out at concerts count towards his sales totals for the album charts, thus ensuring a long stay in the top 40 while the Musicology tour continues throughout the year. Since that deal, Billboard and others revised the policy such that artists must give ticket buyers the option of foregoing the album for a discounted ticket price, in order for the album sales to count on the charts; Prince's deal was grandfathered in.
On March 15, 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This biography is published under the GNU Licence
Items to buy by Prince