Local Current Blog

Music legend Prince dies at age 57

Prince's recent passport photo, via Twitter

Prince, a multitalented musician who came out of the Minneapolis scene and changed the world of music forever, has died at age 57. According to a statement from Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson, “on April 21, 2016, at about 9:43 am, sheriff’s deputies responded to a medical call at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen. When deputies and medical personnel arrived, they found an unresponsive adult male in the elevator. First responders attempted to provide lifesaving CPR, but were unable to revive the victim. He was pronounced deceased at 10:07 am. He has been identified as Prince Rogers Nelson (57) of Chanhassen.” We are continuing to follow this story and will add updates as they become available.

One of the greatest stars in rock history, Prince bridged rock and R&B to fuse a “Minneapolis Sound” that helped define the music of the 1980s. With over 100 million albums sold worldwide, Prince is one of the best-selling artists of all time, widely cited as an influence by artists from the worlds of pop, R&B, rock, hip-hop, and beyond.

Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis in 1958, Prince remained a lifelong Minnesotan and had a profound impact on the community here. With the hit movie and soundtrack Purple Rain, he turned First Avenue from a hot local club to an international music landmark. Artists including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis went from Prince collaborations to performing and producing chart-topping hits that spread the “Minneapolis Sound” across the musical landscape.

Prince’s genius seemed to arrive fully formed, almost as if by magic: he released his debut album (For You, 1978) at the age of 19, and its eponymous follow-up, released the following year, made him a breakout success with instant classics like “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “I Feel For You.” He wrote, played, sang, and produced the entire collection himself, adding to the sense that somehow lightning had struck in Minneapolis. It had, but recently released compilations like Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound (Numero Group) and Twin Cities Funk & Soul (Secret Stash Records) shone a long-overdue spotlight on the small but tight-knit and inventive local R&B scene that spawned Prince.

Once Prince was out of the gate, there was no stopping him. Prince was made for the ’80s, and the ’80s were made for him. Seriously funky but also pop-friendly, Prince was at the forefront of artists who deployed synthesizers and samplers in conjunction with traditional rock instrumentation to create music that felt completely liberated — sexy and fun. “Sexy” was part of Prince’s playbook from day one: he knew how to tease his fans into a frenzy on record, on stage, and, crucially, on screen.

His provocative antics earned priceless condemnation from the voices of conventional morality (“Darling Nikki” inspired Tipper Gore to found the PMRC), and Prince — dressing as flamboyantly as the decade demanded, with a regal flair he might have learned from James Brown — played his bad-boy/pretty-boy role to the hilt.

Purple Rain represented Prince in full flower. While some fans and critics argue that Sign “O” the Times (1987) represents an even greater artistic triumph, Purple Rain‘s vast commercial success was not incidental to its epochal achievement. “When Doves Cry” epitomized the unique power of Prince; at decade’s end, critic Dave Marsh wrote that it “may have been the most influential single record of the 80s.” A stripped-down, percussive track with a vocal that’s so understated it’s sometimes half-spoken and — to the astonishment of music insiders who thought they knew how to make a record — no bass track, “When Doves Cry” seemed to break all the rules of pop songcraft, and yet Prince turned it into such an intoxicating single that it shot to number one for five weeks, holding even Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” at bay.

Simultaneously, Albert Magnoli’s gloriously shameless film defined Prince’s personal mythology and made him one of the greatest pop icons of a decade that had more than its share. Set in Minneapolis, the film depicted First Avenue as a hot spot on the order of Studio 54; instead of driving along Highway 1 as they might have done in an L.A. movie, Prince and his costar Apollonia hopped on a purple motorcycle and cruised out into the Minneapolis suburbs to get “purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.” To this day, touring acts are visibly thrilled to discover that First Ave actually is a great club, that it actually does look like that (okay, not the dressing rooms), and that it remains the center of a thriving music scene.

Though he never had another smash album as big as the Purple Rain soundtrack, Prince remained a dominant commercial force throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, producing #1 hits ranging from the hard-flirting “Kiss” (1986) to the novelty “Batdance” (1989) to the sparkling “Cream” (1991) while cycling through various band configurations and sounds.

The early ’90s marked a crucial point of transition in Prince’s career. He formed a fresh band — the New Power Generation — and released music that increasingly delved into hip-hop, meeting with a mixed reception. If some fans started to sense an identity crisis, they were affirmed by Prince’s 1993 decision to change his name to the unpronounceable glyph (“Love Symbol #2”) that had served as the title to the 1992 album ironically containing the single “My Name is Prince.” The 1993 release of a two-disc greatest hits collection also served to cap a remarkable run on the charts that ended with 1994’s #3 hit “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” Prince’s last single to date to crack the American top ten.

The mid-90s marked the end of Prince’s relationship with his label Warner Bros. — after releasing a quick series of low-selling albums to fulfill his contractual obligations, he broke from the label in 1996 — and the beginning of his famously tumultuous relationship with the Internet. The iconoclastic perfectionist saw the Internet’s potential as a tool to allow him to independently manage his own fandom and distribute his own music, but he also grew increasingly concerned about the danger of having his material freely bootlegged.

Prince was the first major artist to release an album on the Internet (1997’s Crystal Ball) and from 2001-2006 ran the pioneering NPG Music Club to sell his music online by membership; but following the closure of that site, he became increasingly negative about the Internet, complaining that other sites (notably, YouTube) were benefiting by unauthorized circulation of his material. In an infamous 2010 statement, the online pioneer declared that “the Internet’s completely over.”

Releasing music both independently and through various short-term deals with major labels, in the late 90s and the first decade of the 2000s Prince released a flood of new material ranging from the obscure (the instrumental N.E.W.S. in 2003) to the consciously commercial (1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic and 2006’s 3121). He reclaimed his given name when his Warner Bros. publishing contract ended in 2000, and his widely-praised Super Bowl halftime show in 2007 proved to the largest possible audience that he was still a fiery live performer.

In the 2010s, Prince stepped back into the public eye in a way rarely seen since the ’90s. He formed another new band — the all-female 3RDEYEGIRL — and played rapturously reviewed shows with them at venues ranging from Minnesota casinos to London living rooms. He “took over” an entire episode of Arsenio Hall’s talk show, and duetted with Zooey Deschanel on a new song he premiered on a post-Super-Bowl episode of New Girl.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Prince re-signed with Warner Bros. Media coverage of the deal focused on the promised new music and Purple Rain reissue, but a telling detail of the press release is that the deal gave Prince ownership of his Warner Bros. masters. The artist who wore the word SLAVE on his cheek during a 1993 legal battle with his label was a free man.

Most recently, Prince released a pair of HITNRUN albums recorded at Paisley Park, and was performing solo “Piano & a Microphone” shows at venues around the world. He debuted the format with two intimate performances at Paisley Park in January. “I forgot,” he said as he momentarily became overcome at one show, “that sometimes music is emotional.” He was writing a memoir, which was expected to be published next fall.

Artists associated with Prince are still active. Revolution drummer Bobby Z holds an annual benefit concert at First Avenue, childhood friend and collaborator André Cymone just released his first new music in decades, NPG drummer Michael Bland is a busy performer and producer…the list goes on.

A new generation of local performers are exemplifying the ’80s-era spirit of cross-genre fertilization and collaboration, now with a strong and adventurous hip-hop scene that’s produced the area’s best-known current artists. Prince remained aware and supportive of what’s going on. In a classic Prince moment, he showed up backstage when the local supergroup GAYNGS played First Ave in 2010. Prince picked up a guitar and played a little, but ultimately declined to take the stage; some reported hearing him make a comment to the effect of, “Looks like they’ve got it under control.”

Prince’s legacy in Minnesota is multilayered — from his early collaborations with neighborhood bands, to his towering hits that put Minneapolis on the world’s music map, to the venues he founded (Paisley Park and the former downtown club Glam Slam), to the enduring contributions of musicians he played with, to the example the Minneapolis Sound set for the dynamic scene of today.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Prince’s music is evidence — to the world, and to Minnesotans ourselves — of the diversity of our state, and of our music. When you listen to Prince, you hear the influences of all the artists he grew up with: black, white, funky, rocking, groovy, prickly. It’s not the sound of Minnesota’s lonesome prairie, it’s the sound of our dense cities. This utopian artist proved that music truly can break barriers — if u want it 2.

Portions of this article were previously published here.

We’re gathering your thoughts: What do Prince and his music mean to you? Visit this page to send us your thoughts and memories of Prince.

  • Bull Pucky

    :(

    • North side girl

      RIP Prince. My son is in heaven and I’m sure that he and prince will play loud and proud!! A very sad day and another great loss. Thank you for the great music.

  • Joe D

    A Sad day indeed.

  • Mr. Toad

    Damn.

  • Rabbit

    This was just announced. How long have you had this article ready? & how many times do you have to mention Minneapolis/Minnesota?

    • McHale

      For many big names news sources have articles prepared in case of death that they update with new works and info.

    • Nicole

      They took most of it from a previous article on his impact on the local arts scene. “Portions of this article were previously published here.”

  • Deb

    This sucks so much!

  • John B

    2016 is turning out to be the year the music died. RIP Prince.

    • Nichole

      Agreed :'(

    • auntiesmedley

      Sadly, I fear so.

  • Heather Nic An Fhleisdeir

    Regarding: “If some fans started to sense an identity crisis, they were affirmed by
    Prince’s 1993 decision to change his name to the unpronounceable glyph”. It’s my understanding that this action was because Warner Brothers held the rights and a royalty on anything he made under the name Prince. He wanted out of the contract, so he used many other names to perform under until the contract expired. See biographical videos for specifics.

  • ChuckieJesus

    Dearly beloved
    We are gathered here today
    To get through this thing called life
    Electric word life
    It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
    But I’m here to tell you
    There’s something else
    The after world
    A world of never ending happiness
    You can always see the sun, day or night

  • inorganic

    I know we’re still reeling from the news… but… I can’t help but think of his alleged vault of unreleased material… and what may happen with it now.

  • Gary

    So sad.

  • I really do hope there is a heaven, and Prince and Jimi Hendrix are doing dueling guitars when i get there.
    What a crappy thing to come back from lunch to hear. Lemmy,Bowie, Merle and now Prince. I’m 30 but some of the best music I have listened to in my lifetime and the soundtrack to so many of my experiences growing up is now gone. Its super depressing. I can only thank god that I got to experience them through there music.

  • Ro’s dad

    RIP Prince – thank you for a wonderful tradition in MN. I thought that when you played in the parking lot behind Glueks, for what I remember being a “free” show, you showed all the neigh-sayers your true colors – a boy from Minnesota that can Rock & Roll better than most. So many anthems you provided that I always thought I’d here you perform one more time…….

  • decemberx

    “if there’s a rock and roll heaven, you know they got a hell of a band”

    • North side girl

      Yes, my 19 yo son is there and I have no doubt heaven will be jamming

  • Gene Slamm

    The clouds in front of the sky today are purple. Goodbye. You really were a prince.

  • laura

    Thirty years ago I was studying abroad. When people asked where I was from I’d say, “Minnesota.”, which was usually met with a blank stare until I’d say, “Have you heard of Prince?”, and they’d nod excitedly. They almost always knew who Prince was. Minnesota has distinguished itself over and over again-in industry, music, politics, but in my lifetime it was Prince who put Minnesota on the map.

  • WHAT

  • Kim

    So very, very sad. A beautiful man with out of this world talent.

  • YoKasta Martinez

    TODAY is the day the music died. My heart just hurts right now. #Prince

  • North side girl

    Prince lived life strong and was his own person! He inspired me and I will forever be thankful. He was gracious and also very bold, this helped me become stronger to not care too much what others thought. Live your life

  • Andy & Julia Froemke

    Thanks to The Current for being here for us – a place where the community can funnel their grief, be sad, and celebrate his life. No other radio station can do what you do to play the music and help us all through this. Thank you.

  • North side girl

    Yes, Thank You to The Current – this is helpful to read others thoughts

  • Dave

    There was never a better rock star.

  • kaystiel

    Oh man, PRINCE, I met him once a long time ago in Minneapolis, and this is when he cultivated a more aloof, strange presence, but he LOVED it when fans knew who he was, I made him laugh because I shouted out his name in surprise, and it made me laugh, and I thought, hey, you’re allright, hometown boy. The death of David Bowie just gutted me for months, and I was just telling my friend yesterday, you know, the only one left in terms of influence and artistry in music right now is Prince, I’m gonna miss you.

    • North side girl

      We lost another great artist

  • Melissa Rach

    I’ve lived in Minnesota for almost 20 years, but this the first time I’ve felt like a real Minnesotan. The world has lost a musician. Our generation has lost part of our childhood. But our *community* has lost its cultural patron saint, its biggest cheerleader, and coolest, most quirky friend.

  • Bee

    I truly pray that Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness (Washington Post, May 6, 2015), was not refusing any med treatment due to his religion. JWs forbid whole blood transfusions and organ transplants. They do not shun other med treatment, however. 99% sure about the veracity of those previous two statements. That said, the flu can take out anyone with a compromised immune system, known or unknown, or even someone with a healthy immune system depending on the variety of flu. So very sad.

    • jimgardner1973

      That’s a very valid point. His religion was very important to him, but I do hope he didn’t place it above medical advice.

      • Bee

        I’m sickened that it’s likely a tragic “American Pain” story (must-read book by John Temple). Prince perhaps had chronic pain putting off needed hip replacements due to his blood transfusion belief (some surgeons require that on standby although is a low risk need). Too many legal addicts & death by prescribed opioids. We need to talk about this as a nation pronto (and don’t even get me started on the US Mil, Taliban, poppies in Afghanistan, you’ll need a tinfoil hat). Consider this petition so legal/illegal opioid addicts can get on the Marijuana Maintenance Plan. NO certain deaths from MJ overuse, ever. http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/remove-the-classification?source=s.fwd&r_by=8136047

    • KeepIt100

      If you read the article it said he was unresponsive when they found him – meaning he was not conscious to refuse anything. It is also better to be 100% sure of statements instead of spreading something that is false. Blood transfusions and organ transplants are not forbid by the ‘religion’ – they are forbid by ones belief/faith in what is written in the Bible.(Leviticus 13:17; Acts 15:29)

      • Bee

        See my posts above, although new info is coming out that it might be from accidental legally prescribed opioid overdose. Those were my queries; not a suggestions that at that time he was found was refusing treatment. I have JW relatives who carry cards stating their religious stance on blood transfusions (there is some acceptance of fractions like clotting factor) and thus transplant surgeries result in great loss of blood–so it could be very risky. JWs have found surgeons across the world to perform complex surgeries without whole blood, to both good and bad outcomes. Some lawsuits are pending against parents who have refused transfusions for their children. Thankfully JWs position continues to evolve on blood and transplants (and if I’m correct other issues like shunning the disfellowshipped) so check out its website.

    • Bee

      JWs do not forbid transplants, it is up to the individual; the sect only forbids the blood transfusion that goes with a transplant most of the time.

  • Eric

    What a drag. Being a young kid in the 80s, I was into the Replacements, Husker Du, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag…I didn’t have much time for big name, arena rock superstars. Fast forward to the Civic Center for the Purple Rain tour. My sister had an extra ticket and begged me to go with her and check him, saying the guy will blow you away. Well, she was right. Fantastic guitarist. Great showman all around. I became a fan overnight.

  • aris

    The only thing I ever wanted to do was watch prince play…rip

  • PacketHauler

    RIP to a musical legend. Even though I moved to Florida, I’m glad I can listen to The Current pay tribute to an outstanding musician. Even the people from New York that I work with, are shocked and saddened at his passing. He was/is a global musical icon.

  • Frederick Frost

    How happy I am to know that he got to pass over in his beloved Paisley Park, he came home, Music is for life. Frederick Frost

  • Jonathan

    Just…f*ck. man…f*ck.

    • jo

      I hate this so much. I am so f*cking sad right now.

      • Jonathan

        I mourned David Bowie, and Merle, and so many others. But this is just like a gut-punch. I mean…Prince wasn’t supposed to die. He was supposed to sort of decoalesce back into cosmic dust and float back off into the stars when his work was done.

        • Nichole

          That’s how I felt about Bowie. Prince wasn’t one of my idols, but no one can deny that the loss is tremendous, and I am just really f*cking sad. Plus it’s in our own back yard. I work downtown and am going to stop at First Ave and pay my respects. 2016 can just knock it off with the musical icons dying already :'(

        • Gut- punched seems about right, I heard that there was a death at Paisley Park and just thought that some one had over dosed or something, it was my impression that a lot of people recorded there, the fact that it was Prince just totally took the wind out of my sails.

  • Jonathan
  • MAT

    He came to the Cabooze one night while I was there in the 80’s. Don’t remember who was playing, the crowd was a buzz with his arrival. He walked by me, he wasn’t wearing heels, and I had to follow him. I could not believe I was taller than Prince. He looked at me slightly annoyed. Not often I got to be taller than anyone, let alone someone as famous as him.

  • David Aznar

    RIP prince

  • David Aznar

    Prince forever

  • David Aznar

    :( :( :(

  • Pamela Diamond

    Such a sad day. I actually hand painted his Purple Rain world tour guitar. Knut Koupee guitar store (his favorite since childhood) called me at my folk art studio in South Mpls. on a Friday and I had two days to complete it. Fresh strewn flowers and a Monarch butterfly…..that’s how i’ll remember Prince.
    P.S. If anyone out there has a photograph of the guitar I’d love to see it. It’s white with fresh cut flowers). All I have is the photo that’s in the World Tour program because it had to go back to the guitar store to be strung.

  • Kim

    Thank you, Current, for playing the music. I cry, I smile and I remember my formative music years of High School as I am listening.

  • auntiesmedley

    20 years ago I was a customer service representative at an insurance company when I received a call from Paisley Park. I thought it was a prank call, but eventually realized it was the real thing – an employee of Prince’s calling to check on his medical claims. Now, this was during his “glyph” period, and the caller didn’t have an ID#, which means that I was required to do a name search.
    Long pause on my side; I finally asked “Um, how… I mean… what do I look him up UNDER?

  • I’m standing outside FirstAve right now. Its amazing…The fans are so dedicated!!!

    • Lanky

      photo?

  • Lanky

    Not to detract from the greatness and influence of Prince (and Jay’s great piece above), but the remarkable swiftness of the release of comprehensive obits & thoughtful tribute pieces immediately following celebrity deaths reaffirms my belief that media outlets perpetually and morbidly maintain death pieces for all living celebrities and public figures…

    • They do. I learned that on the Mary Tyler Moore show in the 70s.

      • Lanky

        One can learn all there is to know from watching 70s TV …hell, maybe even by just watching the White Shadow and What’s Happening? alone…

  • Jackie L.

    This is such sad, unexpected news. I remember back in 1979 my younger brother went to a local record store and brought home Prince’s “For You.” No one outside of Minneapolis had heard of Prince back then and I had no idea who he was either, but my brother who was active in the local music scene thought that Prince was going to be “huge.” He was right! What an amazing, prolific talent. He will be missed.

  • Upside Downey Jr.

    They found him collapsed in his elevator. He was trying to get help. RIP Prince. You will live on forever. 💜

    • jimgardner1973

      “Are we gonna let D-elevator bring us down?”

      • JCF

        Punch a Higher Floor!

  • jimgardner1973

    I am so saddened by the loss of this incredible man. If the only thing he ever did was play the bass, he would have been acknowledged as one of that instrument’s greatest exponents. His song-craft is simply perfect. He reached out across the world. I am writing this from the North East of England. I will now spend the rest of my evening dancing around the room in my underwear with tears of joy and sadness in my eyes, with some of the greatest music ever recorded turned up to 11. May you live to see the dawn. We love you. Goodnight, you beautiful man of music.

    • Bee

      Agreed. He is among many greats who arranged sound waves for our hearts and minds. From Shakespeare: Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

  • Jackie N Clyde Johnson

    RIP Prince – You touched many souls. Thank you for your talent and hope your riding that Little Red Corvette across Heaven. PEACE TO YOU.

  • Rochelle Allison

    In 1981, a few years before Prince’s breakout movie Purple Rain, I remember hearing some girls at my high school gushing about this Prince artist that they had seen at a local venue. For some reason that memory has really stuck with me. Thank you Prince for the memories.

  • Jenny Candell

    There are no words, just an empty void left in the world. Thank you for giving us so much music.

  • Lanky

    He kinda seemed like he was ageless and immortal. I guess with his music, he is immortal.

  • J.B. Stahl

    That anyone could stand to listen to such unmitigated crap and call it “music” is a testimonial to the complete debasement of taste in this country. Prince was a misguided dope addict who died of a drug overdose after never having written a note of music in his life.

    • Lastings

      why would you come here to do this? Isn’t there somewhere on the internet filled with hate and anger that you belong?

  • Thank you for your live stream last night. It was an excellent tribute, and I felt privileged to be listening to it even in England. It was wonderful to hear how he impacted the community he lived in.

  • Lastings
  • spaceprophet

    I proposed to my wife at Sonic in 1988 while Purple Rain was playing through the radio. We rocked all night.

  • Boycottthemasses

    Why are people so concerned with HOW he died? What have you LEARNED from Prince? http://www.boycottthemasses.com/blog/prince-life-lessons

  • Prince is one of my guitar heroes. :( RIP

    Guitars