There are moments that mark us. Those are the moments where you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. On Thursday, April 21, 2016, we heard the news that Prince Rogers Nelson had died at his Paisley Park home and studio in Chanhassan, Minnesota (about 20 miles outside Minneapolis). He was 57 years young.
It is haunting and fitting that Prince may have been alone when he made his transition. He was a superstar who managed to live his life privately. Prince was last seen alive at 8 p.m., on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson said, Prince alone, at Paisley Park was “not unusual.” It is that poignant thought of an iconic Prince, his Royal Badness, the Purple One, alone in the final moments of his life that haunts us.
According to a press release from the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, staff members called for assistance after arriving at Paisley Park on Wednesday when attempts to reach Prince by telephone failed. Carver County deputies arrived on the scene at 9:43 a.m., and found Prince unresponsive in an elevator in his home. CPR attempts were unsuccessful as he was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m.
At his news conference on Friday, Sheriff Olson said, “We are gong to leave no stone unturned with this and make sure the public knows what happened.”
In that marked moment, devastated fans around the world attempted to digest the inconceivable, the unimaginable…living life without Prince. Social media became a wailing wall for those who loved him. As the news spread, hundreds gathered outside the Paisley Park estate and turned it into a sea of purpleness, filled with balloons, flowers, and expressions of deep sorrow and unfathomable pain. Mid-afternoon at Paisley Park, a rainbow appeared above the estate, a sign perhaps, providing temporary consolation to the grief stricken around the world.
Sometimes it snows in April…
Sometimes I feel so bad…so bad
Sometimes I wish life was never ending…
From the soundtrack Under the Cherry Moon, “Sometimes It Snows in April”
An autopsy was conducted on Friday at the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey, Minnesota. The cause of death has not yet been determined pending toxicology and tissue analysis, which according to Sheriff Olson “could be days or weeks before they are complete.”
The body of Prince Rogers Nelson was released to his family on Friday and later that day his remains were cremated in a private ceremony. Publicist Yvette Noel-Schure said, “His most beloved family, friends and fellow musicians” gathered today to celebrate his life. The final resting place for his ashes “would be private.”
Of the Memorial service, Sheila E, Prince’s longtime collaborator said, “It was very somber, quiet. We were playing his songs, his music at a low volume and it was hard to hear. Some songs were harder than others to listen to. But it was hard, a lot of crying, a lot of grieving. We were all holding each other up.”
We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross…
Don’t cry, He is coming
Don’t die without knowing the cross…
“The Cross,” From Sign O’ The Times
Prince Rogers Nelson was born to Mattie Della, a jazz singer and John Lewis Nelson, a pianist and songwriter. Prince was named after his father who performed under the stage name, Prince Rogers. In a 1991 interview, Prince’s father said, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.” In 1960, his younger sister Tyka was born.
As a child, Prince seemed destined to break all the rules. In an interview with noted journalist Tavis Smiley, Prince recounted how he suffered with epileptic seizures as a child but conveyed to his mother, that, “I’m not going to be sick anymore.” She said, ‘Why?’ and I said, “Because an angel told me so.”
At the age of seven, Prince would write his first song. He would teach himself to play the piano and ultimately master the guitar, and drums. The marriage of his parents would not last and Prince would live between their two homes until he moved into the home of his neighbor and friend, Andre Anderson (later known as André Cymone). With Cymone, they would join the band Grand Central that eventually became known as the Champagne (which included fellow classmate and drummer, Morris Day, lead singer of the group the “Time”). Prince would sign his first record contract with Warner Bros Records at age 17. He would write, produce, and play every instrument on his debut album, “For You,” and would continue to produce himself throughout his career.
In 1984, Prince vaulted into superstardom with his first No. 1 album, Purple Rain, released in conjunction with the film of the same name. The recording earned him two Grammys, and a 1985 Oscar for Best Original Song Score. He would sell over 100 million records and win numerous awards. Prince would receive seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations.
In 2010, Prince was awarded a BET Lifetime Achievement Award. In accepting that honor, Prince spoke of his wilder days saying, “I was pretty wild in my younger days and you don’t have to do what I did. You don’t have to make the same mistakes I made. The future is in your hands now. And the world really is yours. There’s a change going on in America and we’re going to be the beacon to the rest of the world.”
Prince also won a 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, a 2005 NAACP Vanguard Award and in 2000, a Soul Train Music Special Artist of the Year Award. In 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Prince spoke of artistic freedom:
“When I first started out in the music industry, I was most concerned with freedom. Freedom to produce, freedom to play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted too…
A prolific writer, Prince has released 39 studio recordings, four live albums, 104 singles and wrote hit songs under pseudonyms for many other artists including Chaka Khan, Alicia Keyes, the Bangles, Sheila E, Sinead O’Connor, and many others. The day after his death, 1 million Prince singles and 230,000 albums were sold.
Prince defied labels from the very beginning. In the 1981 hit “Controversy,” he asked, “Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? He wore high heels, lace, mascara, sported a pompadour at times, and could shimmy with the best of them. When he sang in falsetto, both women and men swooned. He wore his masculinity and femininity like a badge of honor and challenged all to be whoever they wanted to be and not what society said they should be. “Prince once said a strong spirit transcends rules, and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative,” said President Barack Obama in a statement released after his death.
Never one to shy away from social commentary, Prince lamented what was going on in urban cities in the 1987 hit, Sign O’ the Times, writing, “At home there are seventeen-year-old boys and their idea of fun is being in a gang called The Disciples, high on crack, totin’ a machine gun.” And last May, Prince performed “Baltimore,” a tribute song at the Rally 4 Peace concert, singing, “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? We’re tired of the crying and people dying. Let’s take all the guns away.”
His close friends will tell you that Prince was a philanthropist and businessman who privately and donated his money to causes he cared about. Rev. Al Sharpton recounted how he gave funds to the family of Trayvon Martin’s family but “he didn’t want them to know where the funds came from.” After the concert in Baltimore, Prince donated the proceeds to three Baltimore organizations, said Ernest Dorsey, assistant director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. MSNBC news anchor Tamron Hall said, “He didn’t want people to know all of the ways he helped other people. He did it as this silent angel.”
In 2011, the City of Inglewood experienced the generosity of Prince. What could have been a one-night show where tickets costs thousands was instead an intimate Prince party, a 21-night residency at the Forum where tickets could be bought for low as $25. Prince performed/partied/testified, proudly announcing to the delight of thousands of fans on opening night, “Inglewood is mine.” He also brought his friends to perform as well…Cassandra Wilson, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliot, Stevie Wonder, and Sheila E. If you were one of the fortunate ones to attend that concert, you witnessed a 15-minute virtuoso performance of “Purple Rain.” And if you stuck around after the house lights came up, you witnessed four additional encores, 11 songs, a performance that would last for almost fours hours and leave concertgoers drenched in sweat. This was Prince the consummate performer who left it all on the floor literally, he did not ever half step. Who can forget his magnificent 2007 Super Bowl performance in a downpour of rain and wind? Of Prince the performer, the President and Mrs. Obama said:
“As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time,
Prince did it all. Funk, R&B, Rock and Roll. He was a virtuoso
Instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.”
To the average eye, Prince was a model of health. A devout Jehovah Witness, It is well documented that he did not drink, smoke, and was a clean eater. Days before his death, it was reported that Prince attended a show at a local jazz club, road his bike in the neighborhood and threw one of his infamous dance parties, Paisley After Dark Summer Series, inviting fans to show up to “give thanx 4 the good weather and 4 all the love and support…” At the party he showed off his new purple guitar and piano. He even chided the crowd at the dance party to “wait a few days before you waste your prayers,” referring to reports of the medical emergency he experienced after his performance in Atlanta. After receiving treatment, Prince tweeted that he was #FeelingRejuvenated, #FeelingInspired, and #FeelingLoved.
And that’s what makes his loss so difficult…we thought we had many more years to enjoy the light with him. Prince was a spiritual man who “found fulfillment” in his faith. He embodied love and left us with the ultimate gift of his music. We hope the rumors are true – that there is a vault of unreleased gems waiting just for us. Shelia E said, “He loved to entertain, so people celebrating him and playing his music and enjoying what he left us, his legacy of amazing music, is what he would have wanted.”
We will often dream of heaven and know that Prince is there
We know that he has found another friend
Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow
Maybe one day we will see Prince again
Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad,
Sometimes I wish life was never ending
And all good things, they say, never last
All good things they say never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past
“Sometimes It Snows in April,” From the soundtrack Under the Cherry Moon