Music mogul Prince died in his home on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57, over 30 years after he first burst onto the scene. Coming on the scene in the late 1970’s, Prince revolutionized the music industry with his legendary vocal and instruments abilities, his eccentric clothing and makeup, and electrifying stage presence. He became a music icon: unafraid to explore topics of race, sex, and pop culture. By the time of his death, Prince had garnered seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award.
Prince Roger Nelson was born in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958. He was named after his father, a pianist and jazz singer whose stage name had been Prince Rogers the namesake for his former jazz group, the Prince Rogers Trio. In a 1991 interview with A Current Affair, Prince’s father recalled, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.”
Instantly drawn to music, Prince began dabbling in the arts in junior high school, showcasing his talents in music classes and subsequently forming a band with his friends. In 1976, at the age of 17, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros., guaranteeing him three albums and all creative rights. Moving from Minneapolis to California to pursue his career, Prince released his first album For You in 1978. According to the album’s notes, Prince was responsible for all creative components of the album, including playing 27 different instruments.
The next year, Prince released the album, Prince, which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top R&B/Black Album’s chart and went platinum. Gaining national attention after a series of successful albums, Prince obtained a deal to star in a major motion picture, resulting in the hit film Purple Rain. The movie and the conjoining studio album subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, sold over 13 million copies in the U.S, and spent 24 consecutive weeks ranked No.1. This album led to Prince’s first Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. In addition, Purple Rain is ranked 72nd in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Continuing to be recognized for his artistry, Prince appeared at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards in 2004 with Beyoncé and opened the show, performing a medley of their greatest hits. The following month, Prince was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The year 2004 brought Prince to even higher heights in his career achieve with Rolling Stone Magazine naming Prince as the highest earning musician in the world. His album, Musicology, also released in 2004, earned two Grammy wins for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional Male R&B Vocal Performance. Again, in 2007, Prince wowed his fans, the nation, and the world, during his Super Bowl XLI press conference performance. Streaming to 140 million television viewers, Billboard.com ranked the performance as the greatest Super Bowl performance. While Prince has become a music icon and legend, he was also a dedicated and thoughtful black activist. When protests surged throughout Baltimore over the death of a black man who suffered a fatal injury while in police custody, Prince performed a tribute tune for Baltimore and included the phrase, “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?” After Prince’s tribute, Michael Brown’s uncle reflected, “This song shined a new light…A lot of his music had messages.” Prince even sent money to the grieving family of Trayvon Martin after the unarmed shooting of a young black teen was killed by a neighborhood watch patrol in 2012. Prince dominated the music scene for over thirty years, dabbling in all areas of the arts, including writing, arranging, composing, and producing. Capturing the hearts of fans across the world, he used his music as a platform to explore themes of race, sexuality, and culture.