Prince, ‘an icon of artistry and individuality’ who ‘redefined nearly every genre’


I called my 80-year-old Republican mother yesterday and to tell her Prince had died. She gasped, “Oh no. Why? Why him?” To say that Prince’s appeal spanned across a wide cross-section of music lovers would be an understatement.

Prince was born in Minneapolis to jazz musician parents. He was largely self-taught, mastering many instruments including piano, drums and, of course, the guitar. He came to the music industry young, signing with Warner Bros at the age of 18. As a testament to his talent, he was one of three artists Miles Davis anointed as the future of music, saying, “Prince is from the school of James Brown … but Prince got some Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix and Sly in him, also, even Little Richard. He’s a mixture of all those guys and Duke Ellington. He reminds me, in a way, of Charlie Chaplin, he and Michael Jackson … I think Prince’s music is pointing toward the future.”

Prince was only 57 years old. Trying to process this will come in waves over time. Like so many of you, I have some deeply personal feelings about Prince, one of which I will share with you upon closing.

Over the course of nearly four decades, Prince became an icon of artistry and individuality. Few artists defined and redefined pop, rock, R&B, funk, soul and nearly every musical genre imaginable like Prince, who issued his debut album in 1978.

He embraced controversy, presenting himself as an androgynous sex fiend in his album art and lyrics, and challenged conservative music ideals in his first decade on albums like 1999, Purple Rain and Sign ‘O’ the Times.

A singular force, he famously performed, produced and wrote nearly all of his own songs at the beginning of his career and would go on to build a music empire out of his home near Minneapolis as he expanded his musical vocabulary. Four of his albums topped the Billboard 200, and the RIAA awarded 20 of his LPs with gold, platinum and multiplatinum plaques.

At the peak of his career in the early Eighties, Prince embraced acting. He starred in the 1984 blockbuster Purple Rain and would go on to appear in 1986’s Under the Cherry Moon and 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, the latter two of which he also directed. He also wrote the screenplay for Graffiti Bridge.

He was also an iconoclast. He went against the grain of the music industry, renaming himself as an unpronounceable symbol at a time when he was protesting his record contract and refusing to bow to emerging formats like online music streaming. He distributed albums to concertgoers along with their tickets when that was a novel concept, and he planned other tours at the spur of the moment, dubbing them “hit and run” shows.

Prince won several awards for his music in his lifetime.

[Edited From Rolling Stone]

Iconoclast fits Prince perfectly. He frequently took society’s rigid structure and turned it into triumph. In 1981 he opened for The Rolling Stones at the LA Coliseum. He took to the stage in his (at that time) trademark bikini and played for thousands of RS fans who angrily booed him off. Not only did Prince come back the next night to open again, it is largely rumored that the recording of those boos serves as the background noise to his hit Pop Life.

Although influenced by many types of music, one of the biggest was the fashionable and psychedelic LA band scene that was known as the Paisley Underground. He named a song, his label and his studio Paisley Park in homage.

He mentored (and dated) many young female artists. Among them Apollonia,Sheena Easton and ex-fiancée Shelia E. When Vanity, another of his protégé’s, passed away this February, Prince paid her a lovely tribute during his Melbourne concert. In addition, Prince wrote many award-winning songs for other artists. Among them Manic Monday for the Bangles, Nothing Compares to You for Sinead and Chaka Khan’s I Feel For You. Stevie Nicks said when she asked for help with Stand Back, he came over that night. His keyboard is all over that song.

I am not going to pretend Prince was a saint. He had complicated relationships with his wives. He courted controversy, much of which surrounded his intense policing of his music and work. Though largely mocked at the time, the reason behind Prince changing his name to a symbol was in answer to his contentious battle with Warner Brothers over Prince wanting his own masters. He knew sadness too, like his battle with epilepsy and losing his son only days after his birth.

He also had a good sense of humor about himself. Dave Chapelle has a famous skit of a Charlie Murphy story about playing basketball with Prince known commonly as “Blouses,” which inspired this fantastic meme on Reddit. When Prince recorded the song Breakfast Can Wait, he used a picture of Chapelle as him for the single’s cover.

Because it fell on a Saturday that year, my husband and I choose to marry on Prince’s birthday as if he was somehow blessing us. Come June, we will set an empty champagne flute on the table for him. Here’s to you, Prince.

It’s 1983 video quality, but here is a clip of James Brown’s birthday celebration in which he calls Michael Jackson to the stage who, in turn, calls Prince to the stage.

I know I have posted this before but it is one of my all time favorites, Prince and others memorializing George Harrison posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Photo credit: WENN, Fame/Flynet, Getty Images and Twitter

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

44 Responses to “Prince, ‘an icon of artistry and individuality’ who ‘redefined nearly every genre’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. jeanpierre says:

    Heartwrenching. RIP Prince.

  2. GiGi says:

    I admit to being a bit cynical when people have mourned the passing of celebrities. But I get it now. His music was the soundtrack of my entire life, literally. I keep welling up. We’ve been playing Prince in the house nonstop. And my 6 year old keeps calling him “the Prince” and I’m not correcting her.

    • Lis says:

      I know how you feel, it’s like a part of my youth is gone. RIP.

    • Sarah(too) says:

      So true, Gigi. That’s how I feel. Bowie was a big loss, but to me personally, Prince was bigger. I was in college in the 80’s. Purple Rain was the soundtrack to my young life. Then, on and on. Prince’s musical legacy, both as a performer and a writer, may well be unmatched. I’m just sad.

    • layla says:

      Agreed. I didn’t get it until Bowie died, and now Prince. They were both the soundtrack of my youth, were some of the very first concerts I went to and hugely influenced my musical development. I’m utterly heartbroken.

  3. Lindy79 says:

    I’m still in utter shock.
    Bowie and Prince in the one year, two people I grew up listening to and whose music truly spoke to me.

  4. Chloe says:

    Prince was my teenage years, I can remember listening to his albums (yes I’m that old) with my best friend wishing I was Sheila E. I’m still mad at my father for not letting me go see Purple Rain when I was 14. RIP Prince.

  5. HeyThere! says:

    As I heald my own baby boy yesterday, I sobbed thinking of their sweet reunion on the other side. A loss like that is something you never get over. I find great comfort in knowing he’s with his son now. Celeb deaths have never got to me like this one. I cried off and on all day yesterday. I was literally raised since birth on his music. Some of my favorite songs are his! I have always wanted to go to one of his concerts but couldn’t get my hands on tickets a few years back. I will forever be bummed by not seeing him in concert. RIP Prince!

    • Lindy79 says:

      I’m the same, he was meant to play in Dublin a few years ago and I had tickets but because of a promoter issue it was cancelled, I was so gutted.

  6. BengalCat2000 says:

    In my afternoon class yesterday (I teach art to K thru 5), I drew a caricature of Prince on the board and had a very G-rated discussion about him and his music. We played a little bit of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and the kids loved it. I know future generations will love him as much as we did…such a major loss 😔

  7. mom2two says:

    This has been a rough year for musicians. Prince was an icon and he will be missed. RIP.

  8. guest says:

    RIP Prince

  9. LadyMTL says:

    I was listening to Prince before it was really appropriate for me to be doing so, like by age 12 I knew the song “Kiss” off by heart, and it’s still one of my favorites even close to 30 years later. I will miss Prince so much, he was an unforgettable talent. Yes, he was flawed, but at the end of the day we’ve lost a true muscial genius.

  10. Magnoliarose says:

    This has hit my family pretty hard. My older siblings used to listen to him all of the time. My mother always tells the funny stories about hauling my two sisters to three concerts in one year because they were and are big fans. My cousin texted her tribute and it made me cry. It is odd when someone who has been larger than life and a living legend dies. Prince has been around since I was born. Even the ex was choked up and called to express his sadness.
    There will never be another. 🙁

  11. mia girl says:

    I’m just so very sad. It’s as if one the best parts of my youth is gone forever. He meant so much to so many of us. I feel lucky to have seen him perform live a few times.

    I cried last night watching Van Jones on CNN. Had no idea how close they were and to hear him speak of Prince’s quiet philanthropy through tears was really moving.

    I did manage a smile yesterday in the midst of all this. EW Radio was paying tribute and they actually had Charlie Murphy on air. He was telling the famous basketball story among other memories of Prince. It was really funny

    • Swaneeee says:

      Count yourself truly blessed, Mia Girl. I know it’s selfish but I cried buckets for my sad self yesterday because I will never ever see His Purpleness live and I was going to plan my whole U.S. trip to go to wherever state he has a concert on and just WORSHIP him. His endlessly fascinating personality, his voice (musical and political), his amazing style (those pants!), how he shreds his guitar, and of course, THE HAIR, I am never gonna see that with my own eyes and that just rips me. His colorful music is indelible in my quiet life’s soundtrack. I count this as one of my top 3 regrets for sure. So for those who’s seen him live, thank yourself today.
      Long live Prince!

  12. grabbyhands says:

    Genuinely gutted over this.

    Even if you aren’t a fan of his music you can’t ignore his genius, and in a world where popular music seems to becoming more and more manufactured and pre-packaged, it is a grave loss indeed.

  13. Mimz says:

    What a lovely post Hecate.
    I am 30 years old, which means he was already huge when I was a little kid. I remember him since I was little though, but my parents didn’t let me watch his videos, I think because of his … peculiar attire, and what could have been perceived as gender-bending way of dressing himself, and of Being. I always remember him as a magnificent artist, in my mind, I was amazed by the glimpses of him I would see on TV back then and in the 90s. I didn’t understand him, but I admired him.
    I am not, however, one to say that his music changed my life, or that he was a soundtrack to my teenage years, i was born a bit late to that, but I do have a few favorite songs.
    It deeply saddens me that we are losing one more Music Icon, so young and so suddenly, and it makes me a bit angry that the millennials are left with whatever is left of the music industry today.
    We lost a Legend.

  14. Miss M says:

    He is/was/will always be one of the greatests.
    This little kid from the 80’s didn’t know who Prince was, but she certainly enjoyed his music when her big sisters listened at home.
    RIP, Prince!
    Ps: Mariah Carey also honored him on her twitter.

  15. karen says:

    My 72 year old mother called ME yesterday to tell me he had died. Not many artists have the sort of broad appeal that he had. I’m just glad that we got to have him here during my llifetime (and my mothers). It makes me sad to think that my son will grow up in a world without the sort of musical icons I grew up with. I honestly can’t think of anyone that comes close to the sort of impact someone like Prince or Bowie have had.

    • suzanne says:

      My 72 year old mom called me also!!!

      We were both heartbroken…I got my first tape of 1999 when I was ten…Prince was played non-stop at our house

  16. Jess says:

    So sad. And I’m surprised at how hard this one hit me.

  17. hmmm says:

    Hecate, you have a way with words. This is a perfect encapsulation of Prince without the hyperbole and OTT worship. He wasn’t a favourite of mine but I ended up (and still am) captivated by “Little Red Corvette” “Purple Rain” “Kiss” “When Doves Cry” “Raspberry Beret” “1999” “Let’s Go Crazy”…..ah the days of my relative youth.

    I didn’t know I would feel the loss. I’m glad his music suffuses the world.

  18. Miss M says:

    I can no longer edit my previous post. So…
    Hecate, thanks for this post. It showed it came from the heart.

  19. Delta Juliet says:

    This one really hurts. In a year where we have already lost so much talent, the loss of Prince and Alan Rickman got to me the most. Glen Frey, Bowie…’s tough. There’s a lot of talent and influence there that can never be replaced.

  20. PHAKSI says:

    first prince song I can recall becoming aware of was diamonds and pearls when in was 7,8 years old. still one of my absolute favourites from prince

  21. Jayna says:

    The music board I belong to, which has musicians on it, often had Prince threads on for discussion or a new abum or tour

    He was revered by everyone for his musical prowess and creativity. There used to be a discussion that would pop up every so often how Prince, by refusing to have his music online, like on youtube (it’s vigilently taken down) or on Spotify, etc., that young teens, etc., aren’t discovering him like they are discovering other artists of decades gone by. Many longtime rock/funk enthusiasts were often saddened by that, and saddened by the fact that his great music videos weren’t out there. But as one poster put it, his music, his legacy, and his right. That if that wasn’t that important to him, then it shouldn’t be to us, and that enough will discover him in their own ways. All said, it was also necessary that parents expose their children to this great artist as they grew up, and many of the older posters had done exactly that with their children as they were growing up.

    Well, i suspect now by his death many younger people who aren’t that aware of his musical legacy will, out of curiosity, buy up some of his music or compilation albums and discover the greatness of Prince. That’s a good thing, at least, to come out of this.

    He was such a unique and multl-talented, versatile musician who was never conventional in any sense.

    I sound old, but all of these brilliant artists dying always makes me look at the musical landscape of today of popular artists and a good portion of it depresses me, not for me, but for the music in general and how uninspired it’s become for pushing boundaries. Kendrick Lamar is an example,though, of a great artist exploring and thinking outside the box of his genre.


    On the lack of music education: “Nobody’s learning how to make music, how to read and write it, and how to play. I worry that we’re raising a whole generation that’s going to turn out nothing but samples and rehashes.”

    On the dying craft of live musicianship: “You can’t bring a prerecorded event to the stage. You have to be able to vibe off the audience and let a song marinate. Keep it alive! Where can you see a real band anymore? You can’t get a machine to play like my drummer.”

  22. Luca76 says:

    I grew up in the 80s and he was such a great combo of crazy over the top 80s look, spirit,and also just a great talent. So many great songs thank you and goodbye!

  23. Manjit says:

    It makes me so sad to think that young kids will never have the opportunity to experience either Prince or Bowie live on stage. Along with Joy Division, hands down the best, most emotional and engaging live performers I have ever seen.

  24. Lucy says:

    So many lovely and respectful tributes to his career and his person. This one will be a tough one to mourn. To say he will be missed is an understatement. May he eternally Rest In Peace.

  25. Shambles says:

    This is an amazing tribute, Hecate, thank you. I love that you were married on Prince’s birthday. This year on your anniversary you can celebrate the love that was born and reborn on his day.

    I LOVE that tribute to George Harrison that he was a part of. I watched it yesterday and gently wept, pun intended. He had SO much swagger, it’s ridiculous. I got a little turned on watching him play guitar. I feel like he would enjoy that, the fact that he still has the ability to get ladies hot and bothered even in death.

  26. Mia4s says:

    Beautiful tributes from all.

    For me the soundtrack today was Raseberry Beret. Over and over on the way to work. Not his greatest song, but a great song. Just try not to smile and sing along.

  27. lizabeth says:

    Prince was a little before my time, so he wasn’t part of my ‘upbringing’ so to speak, but this brought a tear to my eye.

    RIP Prince.

  28. colleen says:

    I was thinking about when Eric Clapton was asked, “What’s it feel like to be the world’s greatest guitar player?” I loved his response. He said, “Ask Prince.”

    I’m really sad over Prince’s passing. His music and movies was such an integral part of my growing up. I loved that cheesy movie, “Under the Cherry Moon” as well as his others, and his music was heard in our house a lot. There will never be another like him.

  29. EscapedConvent says:

    This is a beautiful and eloquent post, Hecate.
    Today I am wearing my raspberry beret.

  30. Becks says:

    I also grew up listening to Prince, and I am just gutted with his passing. The world lost a true artist. I still can’t believe it 😢

  31. lucy2 says:

    Thank you for including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame clip – just an extraordinary talent. I just read something about that, during each rehearsal he held back, and then in the actual performance let it rip – you can see it in Harrison’s son’s face, he’s blown away.

  32. Betsy says:

    I didn’t even want to open this. As a native Minnesotan, I have that dimension to grief, too – we really felt like he was one of us.

    My favorite? 7.
    Rest in Purple indeed, Prince.

  33. reg says:

    He has a son named Jordan, named after the Jordan river, born at Paisley Park home in a
    gold tub. For some odd reason Prince threatned to cut him off financially if he had public
    career. He uses stage name Jean Micheal Cipreccio looks and sounds just like
    his dad.