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Prince Dead at 57

Iconic singer leaves behind prolific, groundbreaking canon

Kory Grow Apr 21, 2016
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Prince in 1986 | Photo Credit: Flickr/Yves Lorson/CC BY 2.0

Prince in 1986 | Photo Credit: Flickr/Yves Lorson/CC BY 2.0

Prince, the legendary and innovative music artist, has died at age 57. TMZ reported Thursday that the Carver County Sheriff’s department responded to an emergency call at the singer’s Paisley Park studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota at 9:43 that morning. They waited to reveal the identity until after they’d notified his next of kin. A rep for the singer confirmed his death to the Associated Press.

A week ago, the singer’s private plane made an emergency landing after a gig in the middle of the night in Moline, Illinois so he could go to a hospital. Varying reports said he was suffering dehydration and was getting over the flu. He was released after three hours and flew home, where he was recovering at home. He’d canceled some dates of his “Piano and a Microphone” tour in early April because of the flu, TMZ previously reported.

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.

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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. His first major trophy was a Grammy for his Purple Rain album in 1984; that same year, he also won a Grammy for writing “I Feel for You,” which Chaka Khan had made a hit. The next year, he took home an Oscar for the Purple Rain score in 1985. The following year he earned another Grammy for “Kiss,” and won two more in 2004 for the songs “Musicology” and “Call My Name,” both of his 2004 album Musicology. In 2007, he earned another for “Future Baby Mama,” off his Planet Earth LP. He won several MTV Music Video Awards dating back to the mid Eighties and he won a Golden Globe for “The Song of the Heart,” which appeared in Happy Feet.

Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7th, 1958 in Minneapolis. His father, John Nelson, was the leader of a jazz band in the area, and his mother, Mattie, was a vocalist for the ensemble. “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” his father once said. An autodidact, Prince began playing piano at age 7, guitar at 13 and drums the next year.

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He joined a band called Grand Central, which eventually changed its name to Champagne, when he was 14. At age 18, he made a demo tape with an engineer named Chris Moon. When local businessman Owen Husney heard the tape in 1978, he helped negotiate Prince’s first recording contract, with Warner Bros. Records, which granted him unprecedented autonomy for a new signing, let alone an artist his age.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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