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Essay: The No Show: How Prince Made Hundreds of Black Journalists “Cry”

Dig if you will this picture. February 1985. Prince’s "Purple Rain" Tour is in the New Orleans Superdome. Two barely tween girls are decked out in stonewashed jeans and matching lavender sweatshirts with the “Purple Rain” album cover image emblazoned across the front. My BFF and I are making our way to our seventh, yes seventh row seats.

The glittery purple teardrops we’d carefully drawn in with make up purchased off some home shopping channel, glistened on our cheeks (okay so, the internet did not exist yet). My mother, the parent recruited to chaperone us, helped us settle in just before Sheila E. opened the night and got the crowd amped up for His Royal Badness. As the lights dimmed, thousands of fake flowers (just like the real ones sprinkled across the iconic album’s cover) cascaded from the ceiling. This was back when concerts truly were an experience.

Prince emerged from beneath the stage and things kind of went, well, crazy. We made it through the first handful of songs, but as the energy grew in the room, the intensity of the crowd peaked. All of a sudden, what seemed like everyone on the Superdome floor rushed toward the stage at once.

Just like drug addicts say they spend their whole lives trying to recapture that “first high,” my Prince obsession is similar.

People were standing on their seats, there was wild dancing and the aroma of alcohol and marijuana hung heavy in the air – not quite our typical pre-pubescent evening activities. We were doing okay – well until some drunk/high guy passed out on my seat. Terrified, I jumped over to my BFF's seat and we both began sobbing uncontrollably. We were inconsolable. Our night was over. Good-bye seventh row seats, we’re way too young for this rowdy crowd. Despite the traumatic and abrupt ending, Prince managed to make enough of an impression that night to seal the deal for me as a fan for life. When people think Chandra, they think Prince fan.

So words cannot quite capture the elation I felt this past weekend when I’d finally made it to Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis for the National Association of Black Journalists’ (NABJ) 40th anniversary convention (#NABJ40). I felt like those Elvis fans making a pilgrimage to Graceland. As I sat in sessions about strategic communications, social media branding and how to write about health issues, I could not help but wonder if this professional development opportunity would end with a Prince sighting – and God forbid a special performance. Just like drug addicts say they spend their whole lives trying to recapture that “first high,” my Prince obsession is similar. There were the purple bridesmaid dresses at my wedding, the first dance to “Adore” and that time I got my boyfriend to dress up as him for Halloween (I was Apollonia, of course).

I even tried to persuade my now-husband to let me walk down the aisle to “Purple Rain” and name our first born Prince – both of which he vehemently vetoed. That’s just the recent stuff. There was the time I tried to win floor concert seats in a Prince scavenger hunt sponsored by an Atlanta radio station. Oh and the time after a Prince concert that I convinced my buddies (one of whom is a former NABJ president) to follow “The Artist” to a local club. He was there, but DID NOT PERFORM. My Prince luck sucks!

Chandra before the show...

In my naiveté, I predicted that this time just might be different. We all cheered as our bus in the caravan of about a dozen, packed with journalists, approached the massive white building illuminated by a purple spotlight. We couldn’t bring cellphones, so we all etched in our minds the nostalgic imagery locked behind Paisley Park walls: like the motorcycle from Purple Rain on display and the oversized purple chairs scattered around the perimeter of the massive sound stage.

We even took note of the kitchen menu posted in the entryway, which included red beans & rice, fries, mac n cheese and cornbread for purchase. DJ Kiss (who was amazing, by the way) was already “on the ones and twos” as they say. We grooved excitedly to her mix of old school R&B and hip-hop hits, but after at least two hours passed by, even the most energetic among us began to lose steam. To pass the time we debated about whether the artist-once-again-known-as-Prince would actually show up or join us via Skype on the gargantuan screen posted behind the stage. I remained in my front row spot, committed to seeing this through.

Then in signature Prince style, without warning he appeared on the stage, donning his new signature Afro and dressed in a gold lamé outfit; black beads cascading from his neck. My heart fluttered. Was this it? Was this finally the “do over” I’d dreamed of all these years since that Superdome debacle? His petite body was so unbelievably close, I literally could have grabbed his ankles. I didn’t. He smiled at the audience then raised the mic to his mouth. Wait. He wasn’t singing. He was, talking. He hinted that he’d learned of this gathering recently and then noted the obvious, “as you can see, there are no instruments on the stage.”

Then he sort of mumbled something about wanting us to come back again so he could “do it right,” or something like that. He announced plans to release his new “HitNRun” album Sept. 7 on rapper Jay Z’s new music streaming service Tidal. With that, and a plea for us to support Hova’s new effort, His Royal Highness disappeared into the darkness of Paisley Park.

We cheered frantically, knowing – well, more like hoping and praying – that he was doing one of those clever “curtain call” antics that artists like to do. Certainly Prince would be back, right? His camp invited us here. He’d tweeted that, “SOMETHING IS HAPPENING IN THE CITY COME SATURDAY.” We’d all handed over $20 in cash to get in and NABJ had paid for buses to transport us out to the boonies. No instruments on the stage? So what! You’re Prince. You don’t need a band or instruments. Oh, what an acapella or acoustic round of “Kiss,” “Scandalous,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” heck even “Starfish & Coffee,” would have done for our collective journalist souls.

A very sad Chandra, when the night was over.

Not only did you not provide my long-desired do-over, Prince you literally broke my tween heart all over again. Some of us die hard fans hung around until the last bus left for the hotel, still wishing for one of those legendary surprise Prince performances that I always seem to miss. No such luck. We learned later that while we were sweating to the oldies, Prince had tapped 10 of our fellow black journalists for a surprise roundtable interview behind the scenes at Paisley Park.

Awesome opportunity for our colleagues and we’re proud, but the balance of the 500 or so journalists of color who’d also attended left sweaty, disappointed and confused. As for Saturday night into Sunday morning, I’ll say I’m grateful that NABJ was invited to attend the apparent “dance party” on Prince’s property. I’m sure I speak for many though when I say that I wish my longtime musical crush had taken more time to talk to us – all of us black journalists there – much longer or had played an instrument, lip synced or even hummed a few of his classic tunes.

Forget the doves for a minute. If you didn’t know Prince, what happened that night made plenty of jilted black journalists like me feel like “crying.” Let me know when we can take you up on that offer to “do it right!”