“Music Icon Prince dead at 57”
I was laying in bed at home with a migraine when the news alert from CNN flashed across my phone. I blinked several times, figuring my bleary pain addled eyes were playing tricks on me. Then the alerts came from other outlets. I stopped breathing for a moment. I went on Facebook, and saw my reaction mirrored in the posts of my college friends.
Three things struck me — 1) he died on the 4th anniversary of my mother’s passing, 2) he is the same age as my husband, and 3) a part of the backdrop of my life has suddenly disappeared.
No one can ever take his place. It was not about being a mega fan; it was the soundtrack that you took for granted, and always believed it would be there.
As a child of the 80s, Prince represented the soundtrack of my life; from listening to Little Red Corvette in my bedroom in New York, to jamming to the song Housequake on my Walkman commuting to and from NYU. Seeing him in concert with the raw athleticism that he displayed; then looking at the refined gentleman he became in the songs/videos for Musicology and Black Sweat. When the song Black Sweat came out, I had just met my husband, and giggled over the implications.
He was the consummate show man performer, the likes of which we will never see again. It was like seeing Michael Jackson, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix live — there was an air of strength, raw energy and sex appeal. As he evolved in his career, he went from raucous and raunchy to refined and sensual.
Prince was what an artist is supposed to be — daring, edgy, creative, talented beyond measure. I remember seeing him in concert at Radio City Music Hall in 1993. His energy was ridiculous. He ran at top speed from one side of the stage to the other, playing the guitar, then the piano. He sang, he wrote, he danced, and he performed. He was a style and fashion icon, driving the music and fashion for multiple decades. Prince wore tight pants, heels, and makeup, challenging our definitions of masculinity (especially as an African American man). Judging by some of the stunning women he was linked to, there were no issues in that department!
I was watching the MTV marathon honoring his body of work last night, and noticed how he empowered women in his work. He had female saxaphonists, and of course, famed Sheila E. as a percussionist. Prince introduced the mainstream to ballerina Misty Copeland, who later became the first African American principal ballerina for the American Ballet Theatre, when she performed with him in 2010. He extolled the beauty of women, and respected them while being unapolegetically sexual. ESPN did an interesting piece on Prince’s mentorship of women.
Prince quietly supported various causes, including aiding young African Americans explore careers in technology, and performing at the Rally 4 Peace in Baltimore to quell the anger over Freddie Gray’s death, with proceeds going to local youth. His act probably prevented widespread rioting as seen in Ferguson.
On a legal front, Prince battled Warner Brothers for creative control and profits. He was one of the first artists to take on the music industry in order to get out of the multi album contract that he had with Warner Brothers. He stopped using his name, and he became a symbol. He may have hurt his brand slightly, but it was so enigmatic, it worked. Prince performed with the word Slave on his on his cheek in protest of how he was treated by Warner Brothers. From a legal perspective, it was brilliant. It became a cautionary tale to other artists to be careful of the deal you negotiate — the deck is stacked against you in favor of the industry. Finally, Prince reclaimed his name in 2000.
But above all, the lyrics spoke for themselves. I look at Sign O the Times, released in 1987, and think, what has changed?
In France, a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name
By chance his girlfriend came across a needle and soon she did the same
At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun
Is being in a gang called ‘The Disciples’
High on crack and totin’ a machine gun
Hurricane Annie ripped the ceiling of a church and killed everyone inside
You turn on the telly and every other story is tellin’ you somebody died
A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it
And yet we’re sending people to the moon
In September, my cousin tried reefer for the very first time
Now he’s doing horse – it’s June, unh
The lyrics of New Power Generation from 1990 made me ready to start a revolution — and like all well written poetry, is still applicable today.
We are the new power generation, we want to change the world.
The only thing that’s in our way is you.
Your old fashioned music, your old ideas,
We’re sick and tired of you telling us what to do.
I leave you with my favorite video — a more recent, mature and very sexy Prince, giving props to dark complexioned women like myself. See it here.