Do you believe in God? Do you believe in me?” Millions of fans worldwide spent decades believing in the unmatched talent of Prince. The 57-year-old musician, actor, and icon was found dead at his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, this morning just before 10 a.m. According to reports, he had been battling the flu earlier in the month. His private plane was forced to land last week so he could be rushed to a hospital in Moline, IL.
Prince’s prominent place in music history was cemented years ago when he appeared on the 80’s scene with albums that defied being pigeon-holed into any one genre. His music combined rock, soul, pop and funk to create something utterly unique at the time. His lyrics oozed sex, and he was completely unapologetic about it. His success was slow but gradual until 1982, when he released the album, “1999”. Featuring three top ten hits, “Little Red Corvette”, “Delirious”, and the title track, the album got to number nine on the Billboard charts. “Little Red Corvette” also holds the distinction of being one of the first videos by a Black artist to go into heavy rotation on MTV.
It was the 1984 film, “Purple Rain” that catapulted him to superstardom. The movie did modestly at the box office, bringing in $68 million, but the soundtrack was an enormous success. The album spent 24 weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard charts and spawned five hit singles, including two number ones, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” It won Prince two Grammys and an Oscar that year and went on to sell over 22 million copies in the US alone. Prince followed up the success of the album with a 98-night tour featuring a fully formed Revolution as his backup band.
Prince and the Revolution went on to release two more albums, 1985’s “Around the World in a Day” and 1986’s “Parade”. Both sold millions of units but were unable to repeat the enormous success of “Purple Rain.” Prince fired the Revolution for his next album, “Sign ‘O’ the Times.” He finished out the 80’s with 1988’s “Lovesexy” and 1989’s soundtrack to “Batman”.
The 90’s were both productive and tumultuous for Prince. He continued to release an album every year which ultimately created a rift between him and Warner Brothers. In the ensuing mess, the changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. He was known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, or simply, “The Artist,” for the rest of the 90’s.
Prince always courted controversy. The deeply sexual nature of his lyrics often invited criticism, but never so much as the track, “Darling Nikki” from the “Purple Rain” album. The song has been credited for spurring former Second Lady, Tipper Gore, to form the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC was responsible for creating the Parental Advisory stickers that now grace any album with explicit lyrics.
It was his fierce reaction to the internet and new media technologies that brought him the most criticism in the last decade. His responses to new forms of distribution made him seem like the funkiest Luddite ever to walk the Earth. What started a fight with YouTube and Ebay for what he considered the illegal distribution of his music and image became a war with anything and all things Internet. In 2010, he declared, “The Internet’s completely over,” much to the chagrin of everybody everywhere. Over the years, he had issued takedown orders to not only big websites, like YouTube, but also to fan sites. So ardent was he to keep his music off of the Internet, the Electronic Frontier Front Foundation created an award in his name. The Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award was first presented in 2013 and recognizes individuals guilty of, “extraordinary abuses of the takedown process in the name of silencing speech.”
No matter what controversies followed him, Prince will be remembered for his innovative and infectious music. He was not only a gifted performer and innovator, but he also influenced the industry by writing and producing for a myriad of other artists. He brought artists such as The Time, Sheila E, and Vanity 6, into the public consciousness, and penned some of the biggest hits for The Bangles, Chaka Khan, Sinead O’Connor, and Stevie Nicks.
Prince’s career ebbed and flowed over the years, but it fits that his last album harkened back to his early roots. “HITnRUN Phase Two” was released last December and was filled with the same mixture of rock guitars, bluesy horns, and seductive lyrics as the records from the 80’s. It might not have had the same passion of some of those older albums, but now it reminds us that Prince leaves us the same way his came in – the coolest, funkiest, sexiest motherfucker to ever grace the airwaves.
LJ Moskowitz is a photographer and writer based out of New Jersey specializing in concert, product and fine art photography. She is an active member of the National Press Photographers Association and Professional Photographers of America. You can find her at Shutterchick Photography, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.