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The Life and Music of Prince

As an artist, Prince broke many barriers throughout his career - challenging a number of social norms to the beat of his own drum.

His incredible career in music now stands as testament to his groundbreaking creativity. However, his incredible success came after a difficult childhood.


Young Prince

Born Prince Rogers Nelson, in Minnesota in 1958 to jazz musician John L. Nelson and singer Mattie Della Shaw, he was given his father's stage name.

Prince faced medical difficulties as a child. Specifically, he was born with a propensity for fits of epilepsy. Peculiarly, while still a child, his epilepsy subsided after his having mentioned to his mother that angels said he'd improve.

At only 7, Prince was writing his own music. Much to his father's delight, the young musician produced his first song at this age, entitled "Funk Machine." Unfortunately, by the time he'd reached 10 years of age, his parents' relationship was on rocky ground.

Prince’s parents divorced and his mother remarried – leading the young artist to struggle in his dealings with both his stepfather and father. He frequently moved between their two separate households until he was kicked out by his father and taken in by the neighbors. For years he lived in their basement - attending high school and remaining active in sports and dance. These neighbors had a son whom Prince befriended who would later go on to be known as Andre Cymone, another successful musician. In 1975, both artists would get a chance to shine, in the same band.


Prince's Burgeoning Career

1975 saw Prince and Andre Cymone inducted into Pepe Willie's funk band "94 East." The opportunity proved invaluable to both young musicians at the time and served to jump start Prince's career. Prince himself wrote an entire song for the band entitled "Just Another Sucker" as well as multiple guitar parts.

94 East's main recorded album was named "Minneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings." However, it would turn out to be a demo tape made by Prince with the help of producer Chris Moon that got the young artist his big break.

Moon delivered Prince's demo to a local businessman by the name of Owen Husney who quickly jumped at the chance to sign him under a management contract. With Husney's help Prince recorded yet another demo; this time at Sound 80 Studios. Coupled with a solid press kit produced by Husney's own company, Prince got serious attention from big box labels. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to Warner Bros and on his way to California.



An Expensive First Album and Prince's First Band

Prince came at his new record deal with all he had to offer - writing and producing his entire album (except for "Soft and Wet") solo as well as playing all 27 instruments on it. Although the album wasn't a smash hit, two of its tracks manage to make the charts: "Soft and Wet" and "Just as Long as We're Together."

This first album ended up costing the young musician twice as much as his first advance from Warner Bros. Tough stuff. This didn't quite dismay the eager young performer, though. He put together a brand new band (with his friend Andre Cymone on bass) and put on a show on the 5th of January in 1979. Then, by October, his latest album was already set for release.


Prince's Breakthrough

Prince released his second album "Prince" to substantial success. He nearly topped the Billboard R&B/Black Albums chart - maxing out at number 4 - and the album itself went platinum. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" hit the very top of the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart - becoming the young artist's first top single.

The very next year, Prince followed up his previous success with another. His album "Dirty Mind" was certified gold.

"Dirty Mind" was fairly explicit in its inclusion of sexual content - signaling a slightly edgy turn for the rising star. That edge landed him on the bill for Rick James's "Fire it Up" tour as the opening act.



Prince in the Early 80's

A decade of exemplary musical development, the 80's saw some of Prince's best releases take shape.

Late in '81, Prince released "Controversy," his fourth studio album and opened for the Rolling Stones in support of it. That same year, he launched a small project on the side which he called "the Time." For the Time, he played multiple instruments and performed backing vocals behind singer Morris Day. Controversy received little fanfare, but the following year's album hit home.

In 1982, Prince went ahead with the release of his album "1999." The album did well - selling over 3 million copies and its titular track was a top 10 hit even outside of the U.S. The song "International Lover" earned Prince a Grammy nomination and "Little Red Corvette" became one of Prince's most-played music videos. In fact, "Little Red Corvette" and "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson were the first two black artist-produced videos to see significant repeated play on MTV. Come 1984, Prince would be in video again - on the big screen.

The year 1984 marked the moment in which Prince graduated from well-known musician to full-blown international icon. All this transpired thanks to Prince's major film appearance in "Purple Rain," a movie created almost entirely to show off the musician's talents. Surprisingly, the film did incredibly well - grossing over $68,000,000 throughout the U.S. and spurring the success of the artist's accompanying album by the same name.

Three of Prince's biggest hits debuted in the movie: "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry" and "Purple Rain." Presumably thanks to these, the movie netted an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. The album earned Prince 2 Grammy awards as well. For a brief period, that year, Prince had the top single, album and film in the country. Not too shabby. Before the year had ended, even Andy Warhol was taken in by Prince's appeal - crafting a portrait painting of him entitled "Orange Prince."

Interestingly, it was the song "Darling Nikki" off of the Purple Rain album that tipped Tipper Gore, U.S. Vice President Al Gore's wife, off on the importance of 'parental advisory' warning labels, which she advocated for through her foundation, the "Parents Music Resource Center." The entire recording industry ended up going along with the request.


Prince in 1985 and Beyond

After a sudden announcement that he'd no longer be performing live once his next album released, Prince released "Around the World in a Day" in 1985.

The album stuck fast at number 1 on the Billboard 200 for three weeks straight, with the single "Raspberry Beret" taking #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Come 1986, he'd release yet another super successful album entitled "Parade."

Parade went platinum and its first single proved to be one of Prince's most successful so far; "Kiss" went straight to the top on Billboard's Hot 100. Parade was coupled with another film featuring Prince, "Under the Cherry Moon," which was rated poorly enough to earn the artist multiple Golden Raspberry Awards.

The sting of a poorly received movie was offset by the success of Prince's music throughout the year, though. Even a song he'd written for other artists performed well; the Bangles saw great success with "Manic Monday."

Going against his announcement from just a year before, Prince did in fact go on tour with his band "the Revolution." However, right after the tour, he disbanded the band - shelving their unreleased album "Dream Factory" for later release as part of his album "Sign o' the Times" in '87.

Sign o' the Times charted at 6 on Billboard's Top 200 albums, with multiple hit singles including "U Got the Look" and "If I Was Your Girlfriend." He assembled a backing band and set off overseas on a long tour for it - later refusing to continue touring upon returning to the U.S. Later that year, Prince would face his dark side with a new album, and choose not to release it.

"The Black Album" was an instrumental/hip hop creation that Prince suddenly decided not to release. Apparently, he'd come to the conclusion the album itself was evil and no longer wanted to put it out in the open. After stopping its release, he endeavored to craft a new album as its opposite, which he released the following year.

"Lovesexy" ranked 11th on the Billboard 200 and the lead single "Alphabet St." made it to 8th on the Hot 100. The attendant world tour was a major success, but failed to make a profit thanks to substantial expenses. Regardless, as the 80's came to a close, Prince revved into overdrive.

In 1989, he collaborated with Madonna on her album "Like a Prayer" and Tim Burton's "Batman" soundtrack. His "Batman" album topped the charts that year - selling millions of copies.


Prince of the 90's

Prince broke into the 90's with his "Nude Tour" and another film entitled "Graffiti Bridge." The film's identically-named album made it high on the charts, but the film itself flopped big time. Ready to shake things up again, Prince came at 1991 with a whole new band, "the New Power Generation," and a fresh album called "Diamonds and Pearls."

Diamonds and Pearls hit number 3 on the charts with a total of 4 hit singles, including "Cream" and the album's title track. The next year, his twelfth album came out - bearing no name other than an unpronounceable symbol - and it reached the 5th position on Billboard's Top 200.

All was relatively well for Prince up until 1993, when he entered into a dispute with Warner Bros. and, in protest, changed his stage name to the same unpronounceable symbol on his 12th album. This led to him being referred to as "the Artist Formerly Known as Prince." The dispute lingered all the way to the end of '96, when Prince's contract with Warner Bros. finally elapsed. By the time he left Warner Bros. he'd released an additional 4 albums, including the previously shelved "The Black Album," as well as another hit single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."

At the end of 1996, Prince released a huge 36-song album named "Emancipation" through his own record company NPG Records. The album went platinum - securing Prince's prominent position in music even without a major label's support. Unfortunately, two years later, the release of his album "Crystal Ball" didn't go over so well, with a number of sales discrepancies and pre-ordering issues to blame. Perhaps because of this, Prince elected to sign with Arista Records in '99 for the release of his newest record "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic."


Prince at the Turn of the Millennium

The year 2000 saw the reversion from symbol to original name by Prince. His publishing contract with Warner expired, he reverted to "Prince" on stage and on his albums. A number of his releases during this period came out on his website which subsequently became a hub for his community of fans.

In 2004, after a major performance at the Grammy Awards alongside Beyonce, Prince found himself being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, he released yet another album entitled "Musicology" through Columbia Records. Musicology outperformed his other albums released since 2000 and went on to net Prince a pair of Grammies too. The album tour also assisted in making Prince the highest-earning musician in the world, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

Prince's next major album release came out in 2006. The album "3121" made waves with its top notch music videos and Spanish influence. 2006 also saw Prince receive a Webby Award for his use of the Internet to distribute his music, though he suddenly shut his website down mere weeks later. Busy as ever, Prince labored on in 2006 - performing at multiple venues and award shows, opening his own nightclub in Las Vegas and more. He wrote and performed "The Song of the Heart" for the kids' movie "Happy Feet" and landed a Golden Globe for it. Then, in November, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame.

Prince gave a performance at the Super Bowl in 2007 that Billboard ranked as the best ever in Super Bowl history. He followed up the massively successful performance with a slew of others around the world. Prince performed at the ALMA Awards, on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, at Coachella and more before the end of 2008. He put out a live album by the name of "Indigo Nights" and a grouping of songs debuted over radio broadcast. More would follow in '09; this time on his new website "Lotusflow3r.com." Shortly thereafter, that same year, a Prince triple set of albums released: "Lotusflower," "MPLSoUND" and "Elixer."


2010's and Prince's Passing

2010 set off the artist's "20Ten" album release, but saw him close down Lotusflow3r.com - rejecting the Internet music distribution model at the time. His 20Ten tour was completed and followed up with another before the year's end.

Prince’s achievements continued to garner attention in the industry and he was presented with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in December that year. From 2010 to 2014, Prince staged numerous performances and, finally, in 2014, re-signed with Warner Bros. Records for future releases.

2014 marked the year in which Prince ran the first leg of his "Hit N Run" tour, which revolved around the creative concept of announcing concert dates and locations the day of their occurrence on his Twitter feed. His related album "Hit n Run Phase One" came out in 2015, as did its 'Phase Two' continuation. These proved to be his last albums.

In 2016, Prince set off on his final tour the "Piano and a Microphone Tour" featuring only him and a custom piano. The tour was extremely well-received, but came to a screeching halt when the star succumbed to illness. He battled with influenza, canceling and rescheduling shows to rest and recover. Sadly, on April 21, Prince was found to be unresponsive and later pronounced dead at his own home, due to an accidental overdose of fentanyl at the age of 57.


Although his time was cut short, Prince packed a huge amount of achievement into his life. His music is still fresh in the minds and hearts of his many devout followers worldwide.