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PRINCE, 1958-2016


Prince
has died.

The iconoclastic musician, who blossomed into superstardom in the 1980s and then spent more than two decades fighting to follow his own muse away from corporate entities, was found dead 4/21 at his Paisley Park recording studio in Chanhassen, Minn. He was 57.

According to local Minneapolis media reports and TMZ, his body was discovered after authorities responded to a medical call at 9:43am. Prince’s publicist confirmed the death.

Prince had been briefly hospitalized last week in Moline, Ill., after his private jet made an emergency stop there. On Saturday night, Prince appeared at a dance party at Paisley Park and made a brief appearance to assure people he was fine.

Within minutes of the news breaking, the socials were dominated by expressions of shock and grief, as well as appreciation for the man's extraordinary body of work. The Very Best of Prince is already #1 on iTunes, with Purple Rain #2, The Hits/The B-Sides at #3, 1999 at #5 and other titles flying toward the top.

 “Today, we remember and celebrate Prince as one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO, The Recording Academy. “Never one to conform, he redefined and forever changed our musical landscape. Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever. We have lost a true innovator and our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, collaborators, and all who have been impacted by his incredible work.”


 

Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, he created a unique mixture of funk, rock & roll and pop–everything from doo-wop to ‘60s soul balladry and Beatles-inspired psychedelia to Hendrix-style guitar workouts–that broadened the definition of R&B in the wake of disco’s decline.  

He emerged as something of a prodigy, playing many of the instruments on his first Warner Bros. albums, released when he was just 20 and 21 years old. It was his third album, Dirty Mind, that was the first to display the breadth of his talents and his ability to move musically between the raw and polished as he sang about sex in a graphic and direct way no other pop stars were doing in 1980.

That album’s follow-up, 1983’s double LP 1999, brought him wider success as his anthems “Little Red Corvette,” “Delirious” and the title track—the album’s first side—caught on with club-goers, record buyers and radio listeners. It became his first Top 10 album, peaking at #9, as the singles all went Top 20.

He exploded in the mainstream with the album and film Purple Rain, which hit #1 soon after its release in 1984 and would register 24 weeks atop the album chart; it would go on to sell 13m copies. It also featured his first #1 single, “Let’s Go Crazy.” The film would do $68m at the box office and earn Prince an Oscar for original song. He would also win three of his seven Grammys for the effort.

The film turned Prince into a style icon as well. He owned the color purple and, with no sense of irony, wore women’s clothing, went big with ruffles, lace and hair and had his bandmates follow suit. Soon, through his Paisley Park stable, he had a coterie of artists following his stylistic lead visually and musically; he put Minneapolis on the map as a music epicenter.

Purple Rain’s success also elevated Prince to the pantheon of music’s new class of leaders, musicians such as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, who were having a social impact that went beyond the standard reaches of popular music. They created the soundtrack of the MTV generation, giving the network its visuals, attitude and gravitas.

On successive albums, Prince proved his mettle as a musical explorer, going easy on funk and incorporating an ambitious blend of psychedelia, gospel, blues and electronics on 1985’s Around the World in a Day, 1986’s Parade, 1987’s  Sign “O” the Times and 1989’s Lovesexy. The further he got from Purple Rain, the lower he registered on charts: Around the World in a Day hit #1; Lovesexy peaked at #11. He continued to register Top 10 singles with “Raspberry Beret,” “Kiss” (a #1), “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” "U Got the Look," “Sign O the Times” and “Alphabet St.”

He returned to the top of the charts with the Batman soundtrack and its lead single, “Batdance.” Throughout the ‘80s, others were having significant hits with his songs: The Bangles with “Manic Monday,” Sinead O’Connor with “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Chaka Khan with "I Feel For You,” and Sheila E. with “The Glamorous Life.” He also co-wrote “Stand Back” with Stevie Nicks and “Love Song” with Madonna.

Having dropped his longtime backing band The Revolution in 1987, Prince started working with new bands and started making his live shows more theatrical. His Lovesexy tour, which saw him creating medleys of scores of songs, was done in the round on a set that included a motorcycle, a bed, a giant cross and a basketball backboard and rim. The next tour, and every one after that, would be stripped down by comparison and designed to showcase the musicians. As an era of lip-synching and onstage posturing emerged, Prince always emphasized to his audience that he and his band were real musicians performing live.

“Prince was peerless as a musician, performer and songwriter.  He was clearly one of the all-time greats, always mesmerizing, magical and cutting edge.  He was one-of-a-kind in every respect. To know Prince personally was to know someone kind and gentle, phenomenally brilliant and intellectually curious, with every bone in his body loving music.  The world of music has tragically lost one of its greatest defining members.”—Clive Davis

In the midst of his significant late-'80s output, Prince created The Black Album, a record heavy on funk and instrumentals that included his first attempt at hip-hop. Deciding it was too dark and averse to his spirituality, Prince had the record shelved; it would become one of the hottest bootlegs of the ‘80s and early ‘90s until Warner Bros. gave it a limited release in 1994.  

The early 1990s saw Prince introduce his new band, The New Power Revolution, who scored with the hit singles “Cream” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” and in 1992 he introduced the “love symbol,” which he would later use as his name.

The Love Symbol album, his 12th for Warner Bros., initiated the break down between the artist and the label. He changed his name to the symbol—publications without the proper font took to calling him The Artist Formerly Known As Prince or TAFKAP—and released the poor-selling Come, on which he listed himself as Prince 1958-1993. Chaos and Order, released in 1996 with little promotion, was his last for Warner Bros.

Prince quickly created NPG Records and started to release albums through EMI; Emancipation and Newpowersoul cracked the Top 40 but were seen as commercial disappointments.

In 1999, he signed with Clive DavisArista and, following the lead of Carlos Santana’s Supernatural, recorded the cameo-filled Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, which hit #18.

His next release, Musicology on NPG/Columbia, was a game changer. Having resumed using the name Prince and embracing his Warners catalog in his concerts, Prince opened the 2004 Grammy Awards show with Beyonce in one of the telecast’s most widely praised performances ever. When the album was released in April, Musicology was bundled with concert tickets and as each set of shows went on sale, Musicology’s sales figures would hold steady and keep the album in the Top 10 for a few months, peaking at #3. Soon thereafter, Soundscan would revise its rules regarding bundling albums and tickets.

The Musicology Tour would hit 96 markets and make Prince the top-grossing touring act of 2004; he would then win two Grammy Awards in  R&B performance categories.

He moved to Universal for his March 2006 release 3121, which debuted at #1 upon its release. It led to him performing for the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2007—widely considered the best halftime show in history—and a 21-concert run at London’s O2 Arena in the summer.

While always associated with Minneapolis, where he played secret shows on a regular basis, he started to use Los Angeles as a second home for his unique concert ideas. To support 3121, the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel was turned into multiple concert venues where Prince took up residency, performing three distinct sets nightly. In 2009, he became the only performer to play L.A. Live’s three venues—Nokia Theatre, Club Nokia and Conga Room—in one night; and in 2011 he took up residency at the Forum, playing dozens of shows and charging $25 a ticket.

In the last eight years, he has headlined Coachella, been inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, kept his music off streaming services and introduced a new song via a cameo on the TV series The New Girl. His last releases were HITnRUN: Phase One and HITnRUN: Phase Two; both were largely ignored.

He also patched up differences with Warner Bros., returning to the label in 2014 by licensing his recordings back to the label with the intention of producing new material as well. His last releases were the tracks “Stare” last summer and “FUNKNRoll” in March 2014.

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