It is not often a musician from Minnesota becomes a giant, international phenomenon, but that is just what Prince Rogers Nelson became. Better known simply as “Prince”, this singer-songwriter-musician was born and raised in Minneapolis to musician parents and grew up with a deep interest in music from a very early age. Prince wrote his first song on his father’s piano at age 7, a tune titled, “Funk Machine” and went on to join his first band, called Grand Central, while in high school. It was the beginning to a very prolific career.
In 1973, while still in junior high school Prince met famed songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam, who was impressed by Prince’s drive, work ethic, and multi-instrument talents. Morris Day eventually joined Grand Central as drummer and Prince’s first band played local clubs and parties, eventually changing their name to Champagne when they started playing original music.
In 1975, Prince joined his cousin’s husband, Pepe Willie, to record guitar tracks for Willie’s new band called 94 East. He was living, at the time, with André Anderson (later known as André Cymone) who joined Prince in the 94 East recordings. From there Prince created a demo tape in 1976 at producer Chris Moon’s studio but was unable to garner a recording contract. He brought the tape to local businessman Owen Husney, who signed Prince to a management contact and produced a new demo at Sound 80 studios and a press kit that ultimately got Prince signed to Warner Bros.
Warner Bros agreed to give Prince creative control and his first album, For You, was recorded in Los Angeles at Record Plant Studios. The album was released on April 7, 1978. His first platinum album, the self-titled, Prince, was released in October 1979 and resulted in several hit songs including “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which sold over a million copies and reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. And just like that, Prince’s career was off and running.
Perhaps it was the 1984 hit film, Purple Rain, and its soundtrack of the same name, that are the most memorable of Prince’s early career. The movie was based loosely on Prince’s own life and earned the musician an Academy Award for best original song score while the soundtrack album spent 24 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and sold 13 million copies in the US. The songs “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” reached number 1 and the title track reached number 2 on the charts. At one point in 1984, Prince had the number one song, number one album, and number one movie in the US at the same time, the first time a singer achieved such a feat.
From there Prince’s career continued to soar to new heights in creativity and collaboration. Simply put he was as prolific as any songwriter or musician before or since. So much so that space doesn’t allow me to recount all his work or accomplishment. Beyond his work, Prince was generally known as a humble man who didn’t always like all the attention he received. He was an active member of his adopted community of Chanhassen, Minnesota (a suburb just west of Minneapolis) and, though he never talked much about it, was reported to be quite the philanthropist. His death last week came as quite a shock and has resulted in an unbelievable outpouring of support from his fans.
I will confess that I was never really a big fan of his work, though I have seen the movie Purple Rain enough times to remember several of the scenes. But in the days since his passing I have learned a lot about Prince, and what caught my attention more than everything else, perhaps, was what people have said about his live performances. Being a fan of live music, I can honestly say I now wish I would have seen Prince live at least once.
But while I know relatively little about Prince, I do know that at age 57 he died seemingly long before his time and his death was absolutely shocking on a global scale. Tributes to Prince have popped up all over the world with buildings and other structures lit up in purple, stars such as Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and David Gilmour have sung tributes to him, and TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Voice have honored Prince. Even Google paid respects with a Purple Rain Google Doodle.
Clearly Prince was a well-respected artist and people everywhere thought he would be around for many years to come. And when we stop to think about it, isn’t that how we feel about all our loved ones, all our friends, and even ourselves? Don’t we tend to assume we have another day or another hour, when the reality is we may not even have another minute? If Prince’s untimely death can teach us anything, perhaps it is that we should never take our friends, family, or coworkers for granted. We should let them know, right now, how much we love and appreciate them and live every day with them as if it may be our last.
The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4) May I encourage you to consider how quickly our assumptions of longevity can be shown to be mistaken. Before it’s too late, please reach out in love to those around you and, if you haven’t already, please consider your own mortality and reach out to Jesus, “for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
As noted by the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore he (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)