Prince

Prince, an Artist Who Defied Genre, Is Dead at 57



Runaway Success
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958, the son of John L. Nelson, a musician whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and Mattie Della Shaw, a jazz singer who had performed with the Prince Rogers Band. They were separated in 1965, and his mother remarried in 1967. Prince spent some time living with each parent and immersed himself in music, teaching himself to play his instruments. “I think you’ll always be able to do what your ear tells you,” he told his high school newspaper, according to the biography “I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon” (2013) by the critic Touré.

Eventually he ran away, living for some time in the basement of a neighbor whose son, André Anderson, would later record as André Cymone. As high school students they formed a band that would also include Morris Day, later the leader of the Time. In classes, Prince also studied the music business.



He recorded with a Minneapolis band, 94 East, and began working on his own solo recordings. He was still a teenager when he was signed to Warner Bros. Records, in a deal that included full creative control. His first album, “For You” (1978), gained only modest attention. But his second, “Prince” (1979), started with “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” a No. 1 R&B hit that reached No. 11 on the pop charts; the album sold more than a million copies, and for the next two decades Prince albums never failed to reach the Top 100. During the 1980s, nearly all were million-sellers that reached the Top 10.
With his third album, the pointedly titled “Dirty Mind,” Prince moved from typical R&B romance to raunchier, more graphic scenarios; he posed on the cover against a backdrop of bedsprings and added more rock guitar to his music. It was a clear signal that he would not let formats or categories confine him. “Controversy,” in 1981, had Prince taunting, “Am I black or white?/Am I straight or gay?” His audience was broadening; the Rolling Stones chose him as an opening act for part of their tour that year.
Prince grew only more prolific. His next album, “1999,” was a double LP; the video for one of its hit singles, “Little Red Corvette,” became one of the first songs by an African-American musician played in heavy rotation on MTV. He was also writing songs with and producing the female group Vanity 6 and the funk band Morris Day and the Time, which would have a prominent role in “Purple Rain.”
Prince played “the Kid,” escaping an abusive family to pursue rock stardom, in “Purple Rain.” Directed by Albert Magnoli on a budget of $7 million, it was Prince’s film debut and his transformation from stardom to superstardom. With No. 1 hits in “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry,” he at one point in 1984 had the No. 1 album, single and film simultaneously.
He also drew some opposition. “Darling Nikki,” a song on the album that refers to masturbation, shocked Tipper Gore, the wife of Al Gore, who was then a United States senator, when she heard her daughter listening to it, helping lead to the formation of the Parents’ Music Resource Center, which eventually pressured record companies into labeling albums to warn of “explicit content.” Prince himself would later, in a more religious phase, decide not to use profanities onstage, but his songs — like his 2013 single “Breakfast Can Wait” — never renounced carnal delights.
Prince didn’t try to repeat the blockbuster sound of “Purple Rain,” and for a time he withdrew from performing. He toyed with pastoral, psychedelic elements on “Around the World in a Day” in 1985, which included the hit “Raspberry Beret,” and “Parade” in 1986, which was the soundtrack for a movie he wrote and directed, “Under the Cherry Moon,” that was an awkward flop. He also built his studio complex, Paisley Park, in the mid-1980s for a reported $10 million, and in 1989 his “Batman” soundtrack album sold two million copies.