We were still mourning the loss of David Bowie when we learned that R&B icon, Prince, had tragically died a few weeks ago in his suburban Minnesota home. A mysterious superstar, his popularity transcended generations and genres. But what a legacy he left behind. Over 30-plus years, Prince sold more than 100 million albums, won seven Grammies and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004—20 years after the soundtrack to "Purple Rain" was a multiplatinum success.
Destined to become a musician
Most critics agree that we’ve lost a musical genius. The son of musicians, Prince became interested in music at an early age and taught himself to play the guitar, piano and drums. Considered a guitar virtuoso, a master of drums, percussion, bass, keyboards and synthesizer, he played 27 instruments on his debut album.
Irreverence for gender conformity that was years ahead of its time
As a performer, he was known for and understood the power of his flamboyant style and showmanship. He came to be regarded as a sex symbol for his androgynous, amorphous sexuality and defiance of racial stereotypes. Decades before transgender politics became mainstream topics, Prince was a living case study for life in the gray area that transcended strict labeling. “I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I’m something that you’ll never understand,” Prince sang on “I Would Die 4 U.” Few would fully grasp Prince’s fluid embodiment of both maleness and femaleness, and it was precisely this evasion of easy classification that made him endlessly fascinating. That we never quite knew what to expect was what made Prince unique and drew us to him.
Nurturing and supporting women artists throughout his career
The reasons that Prince counted many women among his fans may go beyond his music. Throughout his career, Prince respected women as artists, songwriters and performers—most unusual in the late 70s and 80s when he began his career. Prince championed and nurtured women musicians and populated his bands with female artists. He was a huge fan of Joni Mitchell’s, and he wrote countless award-winning songs—often under a pseudonym — for female artists, including Stevie Nicks, Sinead O’Connor, The Bangles and Chaka Khan.
Prince was a longtime supporter of Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American principal dancer. Copeland credits Prince’s influence and steady guidance for helping her evolve as an artist, and they collaborated many times over the years. "He pushed me as an artist in ways I hadn't been before," she said. "In ways that the ballet world doesn't particularly invite."
Other little-known facts about Prince
- Prince wrote his first song at 7, a total commercial flop.
- While larger in life in many ways, Prince was diminutive--just 5’2, he was a talented basketball player and once played for one of the best school teams in Minnesota.
- Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness and refused to swear in his songs or regularly sing old songs that championed sexual freedom.
- Prince wrote more songs than the very prolific Beatles, with a back catalogue that expands to more than 600 tracks.
- Fans have been trying to work out the meaning of "purple rain" for decades. Some believe it’s about the end of the world, a theme Prince was interested in during the 1980s.
Prince’s relatives will be seeking control of the lucrative Prince brand
One source noted that Prince has produced a significant amount of music that lives in a vault and has never been released. It’s impossible to attach a price tag to this. But there’s another economic variable to consider--as we’ve learned from other musical superstars, their music grows in value after they’ve died. There is no question that the value of Prince’s music, like that of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and James Brown, will grow exponentially in death.
Prince was young, just 57, when he died . . .
We don’t yet know the cause of death, though there are rumors of ill health and substance abuse. Percocet seemed to be his drug of choice for treating the hip pain that was a consequence of years of strenuous performing; jumping on and off stages in high heels takes its toll. Without a Living Trust, Prince’s estate has now become part of the court-administered process of Probate, which is how his estate will be settled—a long, expensive and very public process. Sadly, a man who loved being center stage, will continue to be the focus of media attention—but this time he will be absent.
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