A free spirit of light and love is out. A man who could not stop himself from playing and producing music for the world will never write again. This sample essay explores the life and death of superstar legend Prince.
Prince: Life and death of a legend
On April 21st, 2016, Prince was found dead in an elevator in his Paisley Park Studios complex (Shoichet). His death came on the heels of his final concert at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, on April 14th, and an emergency landing of his private plan on April 15th, with the FAA reporting an unresponsive man onboard. Prince was expedited to a Moline, Illinois hospital, where he emerged, and two days later offered fans a dance party at his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He introduced his new purple Yamaha piano and purple guitar (Bream). His aficionados were thrilled by this unanticipated experience. In what ultimately became a tragically prophetic statement, Prince warned his fans to “wait a few days before you waste any prayers” (Lang Van Syckle). In exactly a few days, Prince was dead.
A musical genius, Prince was born, Prince Rogers Nelson, in 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to a musical mother and father. In junior high school, he met Jimmy Jam, one-half of the hitmaking duo songwriting and production team, who acknowledged Prince’s amazing dexterity with all manner of instruments (Nolfi). Jam said of Prince, that it was he who gave them their first break (Nolfi). In 1978, Prince signed with Warner Brothers (“Prince”). Of his childhood, he said in an interview:
He was slight in size and body weight, only 5 foot 2 inches tall, had epileptic seizures and was severely teased, so he found himself being loud and dressing wild to compensate for it (“Prince”).
In 1981, Jimmy Jam and his partner Terry Lewis became Prince’s opening act during his Controversy Tour, and again in 1983 for his 1999 Tour (Nolfi). Once Prince’s and Jam’s careers exploded, Jam hoped that he and Prince would collaborate with them writing music for him, although seemingly amenable to the prospect, it simply never happened despite writing lyrics for such greats as Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Usher (Nolfi). By the 1999 Tour, Prince had become an international success (“Prince”). The album’s title track 1999, a top 20 hit, along with Little Red Corvette and Delirious, top 10 hits, were flagship tracks (“Prince”). By his death, Prince had amassed a net worth well over $300 million (“Prince Net Worth”).
Purple Rain: Prince’s top success
Purple Rain was Prince’s next musical effort in 1984 (“Prince”). The time-honored album became the soundtrack for the film of the same name. Purple Rain the film made $70 million at the box office and an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Often viewed as one of the all-time best albums ever, it is safe to say that the collection of tracks was the most successful of his career. In 1993, Time magazine ranked Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times among the top All-Time 100 Albums. Rolling Stone ranked the album second best out of 100, for the 1980 period (“100 Best Albums of the Eighties”). In addition to representing such an amazing musical feat, Purple Rain was also the name of the soundtrack for the movie (“Prince Biography”). The film was a semi-biographical story of a musician named “The Kid,” emphasizing Prince’s musical abilities, rendering several concert sequences.
The feature was written by Prince, himself, and showed scenes from his hometown, including one of his former hangouts, the First Avenue 7th Street Entry Club. Prince and the Revolution, his band, performed in the treatment, as well as other acts under his leadership, including Morris Day and the Time. Apollonia appeared in the film as his girlfriend (“Prince Biography”). “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” emerged as U. S. chart toppers and worldwide hits (“Prince Biography”), while the title track “Purple Rain” hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Purple Rain Video”). The album is listed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as reaching platinum status at least 13 times (Pallotta).
Prince and the women in his life
Not only was Prince a prolific musician, he was associated with numerous women during his rich and creative career, including:
- Carmen Electra
- Kim Basinger
- Sheila E.
Despite his many relationships, he only married twice. The singer married Mayte Garcia, 22, in 1996 on Valentine’s Day (Chestang). Mayte, more recently known for her appearance on the VH1 show Hollywood Exes, was a dancer who he had met when she was just 16. Garcia became pregnant with Prince’s first child, but the baby boy died of a rare skull deformity which creates pressure on the brain. The marriage ended through annulment in 1998. Prince married again in 2001, to Manuela Testolini. Testolini was working with Prince’s charity at the time of their meeting. The couple divorced in 2006, after five years of marriage (Chestang).
Prior to his first marriage, Prince had a number of girlfriends (Chestang). He met Vanity in 1980 at the American Music Awards. Vanity became the lead singer in an all-girl group Prince created, but the group disbanded in 1982 after their first musical production. Vanity recently died from kidney failure, on February 15, 2016, after purportedly abusing crack cocaine for years. He dated Madonna in 1985, for a short period of time, and later aided the singer in the production of her album Like a Prayer (Chestang). In 1989, Prince reportedly dated Kim Basinger, who contributed vocals, more specifically moans, to his single, “The Scandalous Sex Suite.” Sheila E. stated that she dated Prince, her mentor, in the 80s, and that at one point the pair were engaged. Carmen Electra, a protégés, dated Prince in the early 90s. It was Prince who suggested that she change her name to Carmen Electra, a reinvention Electra still uses to this day (Chestang).
Prince known for eclectic music
One of the most talented and versatile musicians in the world, Prince sold over 100 million albums globally (“Prince Net Worth”). His music style was an amalgam of many influences which is likely the foundation for his worldwide appeal. His musical expression included rock, new wave, disco, R&B, rap, electronica, soul, funk, jazz, blues, hip-hop, psychedelia, and folk (“Prince Net Worth”). Although he tackled numerous subjects, he often ventured deep into blatantly sexual themes. His most celebrated tracks included:
- “When You Were Mine,” from the Dirty Mind album
- “Pop Life,” from the ATWIAD album
- “Adore,” from the double album Sign O’ the Times
- “Purple Rain, from the album of the same name
- “Kiss,” from the album Parade
- “If I was Your Girlfriend,” also from the double album Sign O’ the Times
- “Joy in Repetition,” from the film Graffiti Bridge soundtrack
- “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” from the album Sign O’ the Times
- “Little Red Corvette,” from the album 1999
- “When Doves Cry,” from the album Purple Rain
(“Salute To The Purple One”)
At his death, much was made of the existence of a vault of unpublished songs and recordings (Schrodt). That vault was located in his Paisley Park Studio, and drilled open by Bremer Trust, a wealth management company, given temporary control of Prince’s estate. It is estimated that there is so much music in the giant vault, that a new album could be released every year for the next 100 years (Schrodt). The value of Prince’s estate will likely transform to untold measure over the next few years.
Prince lacked judgment in final directives
No will was discovered for the estate of Prince (Berlinger, Sidner McLaughlin). A special administrator was appointed temporarily, during a probate court hearing on May 2nd. It is believed that all potential heirs have been contacted. The probable heirs include Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson, and his half-siblings, Alfred Nelson, Sharon Nelson, Jackson, Omarr Baker, and Norrine Nelson. Minnesota law indicates Prince’s vast estate would be distributed to his sister and half-siblings unless a will shows up in the meantime (Berlinger, Sidner McLaughlin). It has been reported that Tyka and Prince were initially very close, early in life, and sang songs together, but around 16, Tyka became a runaway and started to engage in substance abuse (Goldman France). Prince’s career took off. He eventually helped Tyra to get off drugs, and in 2003, she successfully entered rehab. Over time, Prince and his sister became closer (Goldman France).
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: Reinventing a legend
Prince was an astute businessman (Pallotta). He maintained tight control of his brand. There is no video of Prince on YouTube, for example. In fact, he dropped Spotify and Apple, the giant streaming services, which pay 1/10th of a penny, in place of Jay Z’s Tidal, the David of David and Goliath fame, in the streaming service war, which currently has his full stable of releases, including his newest two (Pallotta). In fact, Prince was always strong about controlling his music. In the early 90s, Prince had troubled waters with Warner Brothers, his record label (“Record Breaker: A Brief History”). Prince signed with Warner Music in 1977 at 18. He continued to produce an album year after year, often with not an astonishing success, but at the time, the recording industry nurtured their artists more than they do today. In 1982, with the advent of MTV, Prince became a top 10 U. S. hit with the release of 1999.
Similar to Madonna, Prince understood the value of using video to build an iconic brand. In 1984, Purple Rain was released, and Prince became an industry juggernaut (“Record Breaker: A Brief History”). He renegotiated his contract with Warner and produced his own hits, and that of others like Shiela E., Mavis Staples, and George Clinton under the Paisley Park Records/Warner brand. The waters began to muddy from 1993. Warner and Prince were in conflict over the financial and music aspects of their relationship. Prince took the issue to the people by writing the word “Slave” on his cheek. The problem was that his contract meant that Warner owned not only his music but his name (“Record Breaker: A Brief History”).
During this period, he changed his name to a symbol, and was referred to as the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” He was unable to totally discard his contract, so he fulfilled his contract with numerous less than productions. From 1995 through 2014, Prince danced around with a variety of record labels under his label NPG, which stood for New Power Generation. In fact, he later reunited with Warner in 2014, with the two titles Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum (“Record Breaker: A Brief History”). After 18 years apart, Prince will regain his claim to his catalog of songs and his classics will remain with Warner Brothers, through a new global license deal (Christman). In the digital music world in 2007, Prince challenged eBay, Pirate Bay, and YouTube claiming the unauthorized use of his music (“Record Breaker: A Brief History”). His recent switch from Spotify and Apple to Tidal came in July 2015.
Paisley Park acted as Prince’s home, sanctuary and production studio (“Inside Prince’s Massive”). The gargantuan complex is located in Chanhassen, Minnesota, a Minneapolis, suburb. The name of the facility came from one of his popular songs, and from his former record label. The compound was 65,000 square feet in size and was estimated to cost $10 million. It is possible that Prince’s former home will now become a museum. Prince was one of the most amazing musicians this world has ever seen. Our world is a better place because of him. His musical genius has touched almost everyone who has experienced it, and who has not? May he rest in peace.
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Schrodt, Paul. “Prince’s notorious vault of unreleased music has been drilled open. The Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc. 2 May 2016. Web. 3 May 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/prince-unreleased-music-vault-2016-5.
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