Local Current Blog

Prince receives honorary doctorate from University of Minnesota

Photos by Maddy Fox for MPR

On Wednesday, Prince joined a prestigious list of creatives, academics, and leaders who have received honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota. In years past, the school has bestowed similar honors upon the likes of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Hillary Clinton, and Roy Wilkins.

According to the program handed out at the presentation, “the honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota… The University honors qualified persons within the academic community, as well as those in other arenas, such as public service and enterprise.” The lively celebration took place at Ted Mann Concert Hall, on the West Bank of the University’s campus, with students, staff, and faculty — along with some of Prince’s friends and family — in attendance.

What I thought was going to be a laid-back, academic event quickly erupted when the MCs told the audience to “stand up if you love Prince!”

The evening began with a medley of “1999,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Controversy” and “Let’s Work” arranged by Adrian Crutchfield, with everybody in the auditorium grooving from the start. All of the performances featured St. Paul and the Minneapolis Funk All Stars, with the University’s Jazz and Chamber String ensembles.

Cameron Kinghorn (Nooky Jones), a recent graduate of the school’s music program, was dealt the responsibility of singing, accompanied projections of Prince in performance. The student ensembles were joined by musicians from the Time and the Family; including Jellybean Johnson, St. Paul Peterson, and Tommy Barbarella.

After the initial performance, Michael Kim (director of the School of Music) and Elliott Powell (assistant professor in the Department of American Studies) gave some introductory remarks on the significance of Prince’s legacy and music. This was followed by further performances, this time of “Little Red Corvette” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

John J. Coleman (dean of the College of Liberal Arts) and Eric W. Kaler (president of the University of Minnesota), and regent Darrin M. Rosha gave remarks leading up to the presentation of the award to Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson.

Prior to the closing performances, Rosha remembered in 1995 when they were originally intending to award Prince with an honorary doctorate. The process was made difficult by his changing of a name from Prince to the Love Symbol, so a presentation ever materialized. Rosha was elated to be back on the regents board for the University, conveniently picking up on this project he had helped spearhead in the ’90s.

Accepting the award, Nelson thanked friends, family and those in attendance for bearing witness to her brother’s career and accomplishments. The emotional peak of the night was certainly her singing some of her brother’s lyrics, an unexpected twist to an already musical night.
The presentation closed with spirited performances of “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and, of course, the hit song that had come out on the same day (Sept. 26, 1984), “Purple Rain.” It is unfortunate that Prince could not be here to accept his doctorate, but his influence lives on, and there were many proud supporters in attendance to give the ceremony a warm ambience.