Prince: Mystery of a Music Icon and Sex Symbol

Prince with MadCat, Coachella 2008. Image: Scott Penner

Prince with MadCat, Coachella 2008. Photo: Scott Penner. via Wikimedia Commons

ART NEWSEven in death, Prince continues to be a mystery as bereaved fans wait for the course of death.


Prince in concert, Earth Tour (21 nights in London 2007), O2, London (UK). Photo: El Pantera. via Wikimedia Commons

MINNESOTA- How did Prince die? This is one question fans of this iconic musician have been trying to get an answer for since his sudden death. Even with the cremation of his remains, they have been unrelenting in their quest to know what killed this celebrated musician. The autopsy performed by the corona at the Midwest Medical in Minnesota has only added fuel to the fire of speculations about what killed the legend music star. The news that fans have to wait for toxicology results to come back before an announcement is made on how Prince died has led to greater anxiety across the land.

The sudden death of Prince on Thursday continues to send shockwaves across the globe. The music icon was found in the elevator in his suburban Minnesota home unresponsive. He was 57 years old. In announcing  the death of this legendary musician  who  shaped the music of his era, publicist Yvette Noel -Schure, captured the sorrow of many Americans: “It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Rack residence this morning at the age of 57”.

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Since his death,  fans have been celebrating the life this mega star. At his home in Minnesota, fans continue to converge, leaving purple balloons, flowers, cards and many others at a makeshift memorial. They have also been performing his music,  including tracks like Purple Rain, I Wanna Be Your Lover and many others. The Police in Carver County has blocked the street leading Paisley Rack, giving fans the opportunity to mourn this celebrated musician.

In New York, fans gathered at the Apollo Theatre. Even as they grieved over the life of this iconic musician, they also celebrated his life. Apollo  Theatre, for many New Yorkers,  marked an important era in the career of this highly respected musician. Performing with James Brown at the Apollo Theatre many years ago, Prince proved his dexterity as a dancer and guitarist. Even James Brown could hide his admiration for the young star who tried to upstage him.

Across the globe, fans continue to sing and praise Prince for an amazing career. The outpouring of emotions and the celebration of the life of this iconic musician is well-deserved.  Prince was a thrilling and innovative musician who created a brand of music that captivated many hearts. His blend of R&B and rock created a new genre that elevated him to the top of the pop music world.

An eccentric singer, songwriter multi-instrumentalist, producer and arranger, Prince strove for perfection in his work. He was a bundle of energy and worked tirelessly to create a funky and soulful blend of music. In 1984, he released an album that enthralled the whole world. Titled Purple Rain, the album features a collection of hit singles, including When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy.  Regarded as one of the greatest recordings of the decade, it sold more than 13 million copies.

The brilliance of Prince as an original and eclectic musician attracted many fans who visited his Minnesota home to attend concerts. Even with all the strict rules, including no smoking, no drinking of alcohol and no cursing, fans throng his Paisley Park residence to listen and watch him play. A fan who has visited several of the performances at Paisley Park describe the experience succinctly:  “You are going there for the music and to see Prince perform. Nothing more.”

In 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In a ceremony attended by fans and friends, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame traced his  journey towards stardom.  It was clear from  the beginning that Prince was destined for greatness since 1970s when he arrived on the music scene. “It didn’t take long for him to upend the music world with his startling music and arresting demeanor. He rewrite the rule book, forging a synthesis of black funk and white rock that served as a blueprint for cutting-edge music the Eighties,”  the organization notes.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also praised Prince for his innovation as a songwriter  and performer:

Prince made dance music the rocked and rock music that had a bristling funky backbones. From the beginning, Prince and his music were androgynous , sly, sexy and provocative. His colorful image and revolutionary music made Prince a figure comparable  in paradigm-shifting impact like Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix  and George Clinton.

There is still a great mystery about how Prince died. It began last week when his private plane made an emergency landing in Illinois following concerts in George.  According to the people close to him, he  was rushed to the hospital for the Flu.  The emergency stop led to many speculations about what could have happened, including rumor that Prince was terrible sick.

To dissuade speculations, Prince appeared Saturday at a party held at the Paisley Park. During the appearance that lasted for just about five minutes, Prince performed Chopsticks on a purple Yamaha piano. He also used the opportunity to show off his new purple guitar.  Prince explained how he was avoiding the temptation of playing the guitar. “I have to keep it in the case or I will be tempted to play it,” he told the more than 200 fans at the party.  Keeping the piano in the case allowed him to concentrate on playing the piano. He explained: “I can’t play the guitar at all these days so I can keep my mind on this [piano] and get better.” Prince also took a moment to address the health scare. “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers,” he said.

Many of the people at the party held at the Paisley Park Saturday said Prince looked fine. “He looked okay. Although he looked a little pale and thinner, he did not show the sign of a flu,” a fan said.”

The fact that Prince did not show any sign of illness added to the mystery of his death.  Friends, family and fans continue to be shocked.  Prince’s  former band members  Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman could not hide their bewilderment. They were completely devastated by the sudden death of their “brother, artists and friend.”They also expressed their condolences:  “We offer our love, support, and condolences to our extended family, friends and all the fans of our sweet Prince,” they said.

When the police was called after Prince was found unresponsive in his elevator, they launched an investigation. While the Carver County Sheriff Chief explained that this was a normal routine, it generated even more speculations about what could have killed this celebrated musician. The autopsy performed by the City did not resolve any speculation. Instead, it fanned the embers of  suspicions as bereaved fans continue to wonder how their beloved Prince died.

Since his death, the accolades have been endless for the seven time Grammy winner.  Quincy Jones described  Prince as a true artist in every sense of the word. “Gone away too soon,” he said.  His feeling is echoed by Neil Portnow, Recording Academy President, who described Prince as “one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time.”

Reminiscing on how Prince’s non-conformist nature helped redefined and forever changed the musical landscape, Portnow described  him as one of kind. “Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever. We have lost a true innovator and our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, collaborators, and all who have been impacted by his incredible work.”

Born in 1958, Prince grew up in the shadows of his father who was a jazz musician. Soon after his parents divorced, he picked up the guitar. From that moment, a child who was never allowed to touch a music instrument when his parents were together, could not stop playing the guitar and piano. In 1978 Prince released his first album  titled For You. A year later he released Prince. The album included I Wanna Be Your Lover, a track that put him in the limelight.

The successes of For You and Prince were propellants for this restless and innovative musician. In the early 1980, Prince released 1999, an album that captivated many souls. Even as fans were relishing his latest album and partying like 1999, he dropped another master piece. Purple Rain released in 1984 became a national anthem for people of his generation. From a cult hero, Prince became a superstar.   

In 2007, Prince was selected to perform at the Super bowl halftime show. The disappointing previous year performance did not give people anything to look forward to. But when Prince got on stage, it was electric. Under a pouring rain, he gave a performance that many continue to describe as the best halftime show ever. With his guitar in hand, Prince danced and thrilled fans beyond their wildest estimations. They cheered and danced,  forgetting it was raining. When Prince sang Purple Rain, the stadium went wild. When the performance ended, he had set a standard that many continue to struggle to meet.

The success achieved by Prince was not done by sudden flight. He was a restless soul and hard worker. In his endless pursuit of the true musical experience, he gave himself little chance for rest. “There’s not a person around who can stay awake as long as I can,” he said in 1985 interview.  Like a man determined to capture every fleeting moment, Prince murdered sleep.  “Music is what keeps me awake,” he said. Rewarding as the sleepless night was, he saw it as a curse. It was not only physically draining, it also pushed him to the edge, mentally.

Although Prince was popular and celebrated, he was extremely shy, quiet and very private. He refused to allow journalists to record his voice nor discuss his private life. Even when his life was marked by traumatic experiences, he was tight-lipped  about his feelings.  From the 1996 death of his one-week-old son from a rare bone disease, to the divorce from Mayte Garcia,  his first wife and former background dancer, and the passing of  his parents, he kept his feeling private.

Gender identity is another issue that Prince kept close to his chest. Until his death, he kept many people guessing about his gender identity. During many musical performances and videos, he navigated the threshold of masculine and feminine.  It was like he  found it necessary to embrace the concept of the duality of human nature inherent in many cultures.  This understanding is creatively blended to enhance his outstanding ability to merge different genre of music.

The mystery and complexities that marked the life of Prince made it difficult to truly appreciate who he was as a human being. Many people did not know he was a  Jehovah Witness and that he walked the streets trying to convert people to his religion. His philanthropic work  is only known to very few. In  Minnesota, he  contributed to his alma mater. He also patronized local business by buying from stores and encouraging entrepreneurs.

Throughout his life, Minnesota was home. He invited people to his home and made people comfortable. He was seen many times across his neighborhood  riding his bicycle. His home was also venue for many after parties where he entertained fans. It is, therefore, not surprising that many bereaved fans are converging at his home, celebrating his life. There are purple balloons and makeshift memorials everywhere. As many await the result of the autopsy and toxicology carried out by the Carver County, his  fans now understand how it feels When Doves Cry.

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