Prince Rogers Nelson, better known as just Prince, was an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist widely regarded as the pioneer of Minneapolis sound. Famous for his flamboyance, powerful voice, and eclectic behavior, he boasted of a career that spanned four long decades, a rarity in the music world where success is fickle. With worldwide sales of 100 million records, he is counted amongst the best-selling artists of all time. The son of a pianist and a jazz singer, Prince inherited his musical talents from his parents who encouraged him from a young age to pursue music as a career. Under his parents’ guidance, he developed a deep love for music and began creating tunes when he was just seven. He also taught himself how to play the piano, guitar, and drums. He became a professional singer and performer as a young man and earned much popularity with his eponymous album ‘Prince.’ His highly sexualized lyrics, creative compositions, and incorporation of elements of funk, dance, and rock music made him stand out from others of his generation. He enjoyed a very successful career that was cut short by his untimely death at the age of 57. ‘Rolling Stone’ ranked Prince at number 27 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Childhood & Early Life
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 7, 1958, to an African-American couple Mattie Della and John Lewis Nelson. His father was a pianist and songwriter and his mother was a jazz singer.
He suffered from epileptic seizures as a young child. He became interested in music at a young age and was encouraged by his parents. He taught himself how to play the piano, guitar, and drums, and wrote his first tune when he was seven. His parents separated when he was ten, and the next few years were spent repeatedly switching homes, sometimes living with his father and sometimes with his mother. He formed his first band, Grand Central (later known as Champagne) when he was 14.
Prince released his debut album ‘For You’, in 1978, which was followed by ‘Prince’, in 1979. The album featured the hit singles ‘Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ and went platinum, effectively establishing Prince’s career.
Being an African-American he initially wrote songs for the black youth though with time his songs became popular with youngsters of all races. His lyrics were marked with sexual innuendo which made him a youth icon as could be seen from the success of the albums ‘Dirty Mind’ (1980),’Controversy’ (1981), and ‘1999’ (1982). In 1984, he released the album ‘Purple Rain’ which sold more than 13 million copies in the US and spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The same year he appeared in a rock musical drama film of the same name, making his film debut. The film became a cult classic. Over the next few years, he toured extensively and also recorded albums such as ‘Parade’ (1986), ‘Sign o’ the Times’ (1987), ‘Lovesexy’ (1988), and ‘Batman’ (1989). All of these albums were international commercial hits.
In the 1990s he started performing with a new backing band, the New Power Generation. In 1993 he changed his stage name to, an unpronounceable symbol which was a combination of the symbols for male (♂) and female (♀). The symbol was soon dubbed “The Love Symbol.”
The prolific artist continued to bring out hit albums throughout the late 1990s with ‘The Gold Experience’ in 1995, ‘Chaos and Disorder’ and ‘Emancipation’ in 1996, ‘Crystal Ball / The Truth’ in 1998, and ‘Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic’ in 1999. His career touched even greater heights in the new millennium with the release of the album ‘Musicology’ in 2004. The album was an international hit and reached the Top 5 in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.
He continued to tour and perform extensively over the decade, playing 21 concerts in London during the summer of 2007. In 2009, he performed two shows at the Montreux Jazz Festival and the next year he went on his 20Ten Tour, a concert tour in two legs with shows in Europe.
In May 2015, following the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American who died in police custody after his arrest in Baltimore, protests erupted in the city. Prince released a song titled ‘Baltimore’ in tribute to Gray and in support of the protesters. He also held a tribute concert for Gray at his Paisley Park estate called ‘Dance Rally 4 Peace.’
• Was born with epilepsy and had seizures as a child.
• Had a mainstream breakthrough in 1984 with the film Purple Rain, in which he starred. The soundtrack album sold 13 million copies and featured the year’s top-selling single, the hypnotic “When Doves Cry.”
• A racy song on Purple Rain, “Darling Nikki,” so enraged Tipper Gore that she started the Parents Music Resource Center, leading to parental advisory album stickers.
• His 1987 double album, Sign ‘O’ the Times, went platinum and turns up often in lists ranking the greatest albums of all time.
• Wrote Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 single “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
• Received the Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.
• In 1993, changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol and was often referred to as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
• Became a Jehovah’s Witness in 2001.
• Was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
• Was named music’s top earner in 2004 by Rolling Stone magazine after banking $56.5 million that year.
• Was the halftime performer at Super Bowl XLI.
• 1984, Grammy — Best R&B Song: Winner
• 1984, Grammy — Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special: Winner
• 1985, People’s Choice Awards — Favorite New Song: Winner
• 2007, Grammy — Best Male R&B Vocal Performance: Winner
• 1986, Grammy — Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: Winner
• 1985, Golden Globe — Best Original Song-Motion Picture: Nominee
• 2007, Golden Globe — Best Original Song-Motion Picture: Winner
• 1984, Grammy — Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal: Winner
• 2004, Grammy — Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance: Winner
• 1984, Oscar — Best Achievement in Music (Original Song Score): Winner
• 2004, Grammy — Best Male R&B Vocal Performance: Winner
• Omarr Baker — Half Brother
• Troy Beyer — Ex-significant Other
• Sharon — Half Sister
• Carmen Electra — Ex-significant Other
• Lorna — Half Sister
• Hayward Baker — Stepfather
• Kim Basinger — Ex-significant Other
• Mayte Garcia — Ex-wife
• Sherilyn Fenn — Ex-significant Other
• Mattie Shaw — Mother
• Manuela Testolini Nelson — Ex-wife
• Tyka Nelson — Sister
• John Nelson — Father
• Vanity — Ex-significant Other
• At the time of his death, Prince had a net worth of $300 million.
1 “A strong spirit transcends rules.”
2 “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”
3 “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.”
4 “I’ve grown up, everyone’s got to grow up. But there’s something inside me, I’m always going to have that little sort of – how do you say? – child streak.”
5 “I had a massive ego [at youth]. Massive. But that’s not such a bad thing. Because at least you’re aspiring to be something, you consider yourself great because you want to be great.”
6 “No child is bad from the beginning. They just imitate their atmosphere.”
7 “I have seen the future and it will be Batman.”
8 “If you ever lose someone dear to you, never say the words, ‘they’re gone.’ They’ll be back.”
9 “Always cry for love, never cry for pain.”
10 “Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb, we could all die any day. But before I’ll let that happen, I’ll dance my life away.”