Prince

Prince

Prince Rogers Nelson (1958 – 2016), known as Prince, was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor. He was a musical innovator and known for his eclectic work, flamboyant stage presence, extravagant dress and makeup, and wide vocal range. His music integrates a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, soul, psychedelia, and pop.

Prince was born in Minneapolis and developed an interest in music as a young child. He secured a recording contract with Warner Bros at the age of 18, and released his album ‘For You’ in 1978. His 1979 album ‘Prince’ went platinum, and his next three records—’Dirty Mind’ (1980), ‘Controversy’ (1981), and ‘1999’ (1982)—continued his success, showcasing Prince’s trademark of prominently sexual lyrics and blending of funk, dance, and rock music. In 1984, he began referring to his backup band as ‘The Revolution’ and released ‘Purple Rain,’ which served as the soundtrack to his film debut of the same name and was met with widespread acclaim.

After releasing the albums ‘Around the World in a Day’ (1985) and ‘Parade’ (1986), The Revolution disbanded and Prince released the critically-acclaimed double album ‘Sign o’ the Times’ (1987) as a solo artist. He released three more solo albums before debuting ‘The New Power Generation’ band in 1991.

In the early 1990s, Prince became embroiled in a contractual battle with Warner Bros. In 1993, he changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol , also known as the ‘Love Symbol,’ and soon began releasing new albums at a faster pace to remove himself from contractual obligations to Warner Bros. He released five records between 1994 and 1996 before signing with Arista Records in 1998. In 2000, he began referring to himself as ‘Prince’ again. He released 16 albums after that and his final album, ‘HITnRUN Phase Two,’ was first released exclusively on the Tidal streaming service in late 2015. Prince died at his Paisley Park recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57 after suffering from flu-like symptoms for over two weeks.

In 1985, after Tipper Gore heard her 11-year-old daughter Karenna listening to Prince’s song ‘Darling Nikki,’ she founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The center advocates the mandatory use of a warning label (‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’) on the covers of records that have been judged to contain language or lyrical content unsuitable for minors. The recording industry later voluntarily complied with this request.

In 1989, Prince appeared on Madonna’s studio album ‘Like a Prayer,’ co-writing and singing the duet ‘Love Song’ and playing electric guitar (uncredited) on the songs ‘Like a Prayer,’ ‘Keep It Together,’ and ‘Act of Contrition.’ He also began work on several musical projects, including ‘Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic’ and early drafts of his ‘Graffiti Bridge’ film, but both were put on hold when he was asked by ‘Batman’ director Tim Burton to record several songs for the upcoming live-action adaptation. Prince went into the studio and produced an entire nine-track album that would peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 4.3 million copies.

In 1992 Prince and The New Power Generation released his 12th album, ‘Love Symbol Album,’ bearing only an unpronounceable symbol on the cover (later copyrighted as ‘Love Symbol #2’). In rebellion against Warner Bros., which refused to release his enormous backlog of music at a steady pace, in 1993 Prince changed his name to the symbol, which was explained as a combination of the symbols for male (♂) and female (♀). He stated in a press release at the time:

‘Warner Bros took the name [Prince], trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros. […] I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity was, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name.’ In order to use the symbol in print media, Warner Bros. had to organize a mass mailing of floppy disks with a custom font. During this period Prince was referred to as ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Prince’ or simply ‘The Artist.’

In 2000, Prince stopped using the Love Symbol moniker and returned to using ‘Prince’ again, after his publishing contract with Warner/Chappell expired. Prince continued to use the symbol as a logo and on album artwork and to play a Love Symbol-shaped guitar.

In 2004, Prince released ‘Musicology’ through a one-album agreement with Columbia Records. The album rose as high as the top five on some international charts. The US chart success was assisted by the CD being included as part of the concert ticket purchase, and each CD thereby qualifying (as chart rules then stood) towards US chart placement.

In 2007, Prince played at the Super Bowl XLI halftime show in Miami. He played on a large stage shaped as his symbol. The event was carried to 140 million television viewers, the ‘biggest audience of his life.’ In 2015, Billboard.com ranked the performance as the greatest Super Bowl performance ever.

Critic Simon Reynolds called him a ‘pop polymath, flitting between funkadelia, acid rock, deep soul, schmaltz—often within the same song,’ adding that ‘Prince doesn’t so much build bridges between categories as create music that exceeds each category simultaneously.’ Prince has been compared with jazz great Miles Davis in regard to the artistic changes throughout his career; Davis himself regarded Prince as an otherworldly blend of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Chaplin.

‘The Los Angeles Times’ called Prince ‘our first post-everything pop star, defying easy categories of race, genre and commercial appeal.’ As a performer, he was known for his flamboyant style and showmanship. He came to be regarded as a sex symbol for his androgynous, amorphous sexuality, play with signifiers of gender, and defiance of racial stereotypes. His ‘audacious, idiosyncratic’ fashion sense made use of ‘ubiquitous purple, alluring makeup and frilled garments.’ His androgynous look has been compared to that of Little Richard and David Bowie. He has also been noted for the strong female presence in his bands and his support for women in the music industry throughout his career.

Journalist Nik Cohn described him as ‘rock’s greatest ever natural talent.’ His singing abilities encompassed a wide range from falsetto to baritone and rapid, seemingly effortless shifts of register. Prince was also renowned as a multi-instrumentalist. He was considered a guitar virtuoso and a master of drums, percussion, bass, keyboards, and synthesizer. On his first five albums, he played nearly all the instruments, including 27 instruments on his debut album, among them various types of bass, keyboards and synthesizers. Prince was also quick to embrace technology in his music, making pioneering use of drum machines like the Linn LM-1 on his early ’80s albums and employing a wide range of studio effects. The LA Times also noted his ‘harnessing [of] new-generation synthesizer sounds in service of the groove,’ laying the foundations for post-70s funk music. Prince was also known for his prolific and perfectionist tendencies, which resulted in him recording large amounts of unreleased material.

 

 

 

 

 

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