Widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation, Prince is a musical virtuoso. He’s a multi-instrumentalist known for his work across multiple music genres, flamboyant personality, and a wide vocal range. For about 40 years, he graced the world and invited the masses to his creative world of music.
Prince’s music integrated a wide variety of styles, including pop, funk, R&B, rock, soul, new wave, hip hop, psychedelia, synth-pop, and industrial. He pioneered the Minneapolis sound – a subgenre of funk rock that emerged in the late 1970s. Prince is also known by his extensive artistic portfolio, having released 39 albums during his life, plus a vast collection of unreleased projects left in a vault in his home after his death. Let’s get to know the musical pop icon even more.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 27, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s the son of jazz singer Mattie Della and pianist John Lewis Nelson. He became interested in music at a young age and taught himself how to play the piano, drums, and guitar. At the age of seven, he wrote his first song, “Funk Machine” on his father’s piano.
When Prince’s parents divorced when he was 10, he and his sister split their time between their parents’ homes. He eventually ran away and moved in with his neighbors, the Anderson family. In high school, he formed a band with Andre Anderson and Morris Day.
When he was 19 years old, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. In 1978, Prince released his first album, which he wrote, produced, composed, arranged, and played all 27 instruments on the recording. The year after, Prince released the album Prince, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top R&B/Black Albums charts. It also went platinum. In the later years, Prince went on to record albums featuring combined genres of R&B, pop, funk, and new wave. He started being controversial by releasing songs with sexually explicit material and for appearing in concerts wearing a black bikini brief and a trench coat. Dirty Mind (1980) was a critically acclaimed album consisting of graphic materials that explore sexuality and fantasy. In 1981, he released Controversy that continued playing with the themes of its predecessor.
In 1981, Prince formed a side project band named The Time, releasing four albums until 1990. Prince wrote and performed most of the instrumentation and backing vocals, with lead vocals by Morris Day. Later on, they renamed the band the Revolution. Prince found international success with the release of his 1982 album 1999.
In 1984, the band created the classic album Purple Rain (1984), which also served as the film’s soundtrack with the same title. The movie earned an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Its title track reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the hits “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “When Doves Cry” both reached No. 1. Simultaneously, Prince became a visual icon with his trademark curls, ruffled attire, flowing jackets with punk embellishments.
1985 saw the release of Around the World in a Day, which continued to feature Prince’s penchant for playing a wide range of instruments and desire to impart messages of self-love.
After the Revolution disbanded, Prince created a double album Sign ‘O’ the Times (1987), featuring his various shelved projects. It became his most critically acclaimed album. In 1988, he released Lovesexy, which was known for its album cover featuring Prince in the nude. By the time he released his 11th album, the soundtrack to Batman, Prince was already one of America’s most commercially successful pop artists.
In the early ’90s, Prince debuted in a new band, the New Power Generation, which featured a blend of jazz, hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and soul. Prince found another success with the band’s 1991 album, Diamonds and Pearls, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. NPG continued to play with ideas around gender norms, sexuality, and the body.
In 1992, Prince signed a $100 million record deal with Warner Bros., which was the largest recording and music publishing contract in history at the time. As a comparison, music industry giants like Madonna and Michael Jackson had $60 million-plus contracts. That same year, Prince and the New Power Generation released an album with an unpronounceable symbol, which was later referred to as the Love Symbol Album. Its lack of success created tension between Prince and Warner Bros., and over the ensuing years, the singer’s career experienced a series of ups and downs.
After years of relative obscurity, Prince returned to the limelight in 2004 to perform at the Grammy Awards with Beyoncé the same year that he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That spring, he released Musicology with a tour, an album that won two Grammys.
In 2010, Prince received significant accolades. He was lauded as the greatest Super Bowl performer ever by Billboard.com, and he was also featured in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. On top of that, he earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BET Awards and ended the year with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead at his home in Paisley Park, Minnesota. The week before that, his plane made an emergency landing, and the singer was hospitalized. The cause of death was the musician accidental overdose of self-administered fentanyl. The investigation regarding his death lasted for two years, and no criminal charges would be filed to anyone as it was unknown who supplied Prince with the fentanyl-laced pills that killed him.
Funky Facts about Prince
1. Prince can play at least 27 instruments.
Prince was known as a rockstar on the guitar, but his love for music pushed him to learn at least 27 instruments. On his debut album, he played every single instrument on the project.
2. Prince was born epileptic.
In an interview, Prince revealed that he had epilepsy when he was born and used to have seizures as a child. One day, he walked into her mother’s room and said, “Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore.” His mother asked, “Why?” and he said, “Because an angel told me so.” Back then, he was teased in school. Early in his career, he tried to compensate it by being flashy and as noisy as he could.
3. Prince had many aliases.
Prince’s real name is Prince Rogers Nelson. When he was a child, he wasn’t fond of his name and had people call him Skipper, a name that stuck throughout his childhood. Prince was called The Kid, Alexander Nevermind, The Purple Purv, The Minneapolis Midget, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
4. He was small, but he’s talented at basketball.
Prince was among many height-challenged superstars of his decade, like Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Robin Williams, and Paul Simon. He stands at the height of 5’2”, so he often wore heels to combat this. When he was in high school, he played basketball for one of Minnesota’s best high school teams.
5. Prince wrote hit songs for other artists.
Besides writing several hundred songs to perform himself, he also composed music for other artists, which became big hits, such as Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You,” The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” and Shiela E.’s “The Glamorous Life.” He also wrote for Cyndi Lauper, Alicia Keys, Foo Fighters, and Tom Jones.
6. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness.
Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness who was baptized in 2001. Because of this, he wasn’t allowed to speak publicly about any good deeds he has done as a humanitarian. He also included Christian references in his music.
7. Prince’s symbol has a name.
Prince signed an unfair record deal with Warner Bros in the early 1990s, so he had a falling out with his record label. At the height of his career, Prince changed his name to a combination of the symbols for male and female. That weird symbol was actually known as Love Symbol #2, and was copyrighted in 1997. When his contract with Warner Bros. expired, he announced that he would reclaim his given name.
8. Pantone gave Prince his own color.
In 2017 – a year after Prince’s death – global color authority, Pantone created a new royal shade of purple in honor of Prince. It was also named as Love Symbol #2. The hue was inspired by a Yamaha piano that he was planning to take on tour.
9. Prince’s song ticked off a vice president’s wife.
In 1984, Tipper Gore (former president Al Gore’s wife) purchased the Purple Rain soundtrack for her then-11-year-old-daughter. When they listened to the song “Darling Nikki” – which was notorious for its sexual lyrics and references to masturbation – she felt that there must be some sort of warning on the label. In 1985, she founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The center pressured the recording industry to use rating symbol and the mandatory use of a warning label “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” for records with language or lyrics that are unsuitable for minors. Prince did not oppose to this, and he became one of the first artists to release a clean version of explicit songs and albums.
10. Prince was one of the very few people to become a successful musician and movie star at the same time.
On the week of July 27, 1984, Prince topped both the film box office, albums charts, and singles charts, with his film Purple Rain, the Purple Rain soundtrack, and the single “When Doves Cry.”