Local Current Blog

Sarah White: Prince’s gift to me – and to the world

Sarah White performs at a Prince tribute street party outside First Avenue on April 21, 2016 (Nate Ryan/MPR)

This February, The Current is celebrating Black History Month by celebrating four artists chosen by our listeners. We’ll be playing their music on the radio and sharing features online. This week, we’re featuring Prince.

I loved Prince because of what he meant to me as a Wild Black Girl growing up in the Midwest, but I didn’t really truly understand what he was changing in the world by simply existing and sharing his spirit with us. I came of age dancing in dark rooms and basements, clutching a bottle of Boone’s Farm while singing “The Beautiful Ones” at the top of my lungs with my girls, but kinda took it for granted. There always was Prince, there would always be!

I remember the first time I really saw Prince, like close enough to touch, was at the Skyway Theatre for a Janelle Monáe concert in 2013. I was on the upper level feeling frustrated to be so far from the stage, when all of a sudden the room felt different. That night, in the crowded club, security tapped my shoulder to back up — and the seas parted, and there he was. I was close enough to squeeze him. It felt silly, this mama in her 30s feeling weak in the knees at the sight of him. He looked me in the eyes and it felt like time stopped. I felt the giddy-school-aged self grow tight in my stomach and I had a new understanding of what it meant for all of us in this world to be alive in the time of Prince.

After that I went back and dug out my vinyl and began to really listen. I went back into the nights crying myself to sleep trying to understand how to fit in the problematic boxes that Black bodies, and Queer bodies, and Black music were forced to squeeze into, and had a new understanding of that role and responsibility Prince played for all of us.

He made it okay to be nasty! To be loud. To be covered in glitter and black eyeliner, to thrust on instruments, to scream out loud over the cries of doves and make love to the Revolution…to break the rules and piss off the press and be your own symbol of radical independence. Wild and Prude, both thrill-seeking and hidden in locked vaults…Prince not only put Minneapolis on the map, but he was a voice to change and shape the way people everywhere learned to love themselves and each other.

When FKA Twigs was in town, I made my way to Paisley Park to see her play. As her set ended another surprise stage lit up and I realized I was going to finally see Prince live for the first time! When he lost himself in the guitar, I felt as if notes were changing the chemicals in my body. His gift, to shine, like nothing one can buy or study, was and will always be both a history lesson, an example of remembering oneself, of letting go and stumbling through such intensity and drama with grace.

Thank you for your Purple Reign, Ancestor! Rest and we will continue this work, but nothing compares to you…