April 21, 2016 is “what it sounds like when doves cry.”
During my journalism school days at Clark Atlanta University, we were charged with writing a celebrity obituary. I wrote one for Prince. My first line was, “Musician Prince has died as mysteriously as he’d lived.” It seems that my prediction may be true.
Prince - my childhood idol, musical genius, superstar, humanitarian, activist, international change maker has died at the age of 57.
His endless list of hits flashed through my head as quickly as the tears cascaded down my face. A barrage of “have you heard?” and “are you okay?” texts from concerned family members and friends flooded my cell phone.
Rarely am I speechless. I am today, as I am sure is the case for the millions of us who have faithfully followed the phenom who made so many appreciate pure music and the color purple - long before Alice Walker’s book-turned-iconic film became a pop culture fixture.
April 21, 2016, is the day that fans like me always knew would come one day, some day. But it’s one we’d imagined, hoped and prayed would be one day far, far away.
We wanted him to live forever and Prince seemed immortal – like a bedazzled deity who, in all his purple glory, would live on for all eternity. And even when his body gave out at, say 110 years old, we took comfort in knowing that even then we’d have his music to rock us into perpetuity.
Even from the beginning, Prince distinguished himself as a special talent to be reckoned with. He exploded on the musical scene in 1978 with the single “Soft and Wet" from his debut album, For You.
Warner Bros. agreed to give a then 17-year-old Prince creative control for three albums and ownership of the publishing rights, a deal that was virtually unheard of at that time and perhaps ever for someone so young. According to the For You album notes, Prince produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording. Legend has it that he sang all of the vocals too.
“Sometimes It Snows In April,” was the Princely paean that evoked tears when his Under The Cherry Moon character Christopher Tracy passed away; the song’s message serves as yet another bit of foreshadowing that unfortunately seems to ring true today.
Prince’s abrupt and unexpected death punctuates a troubling and emotional list of musical losses that are hard to accept and conjures to mind the cliché “gone too soon.” As a journalism friend said to me after sharing confirmation of the news this morning, “First it was Luther [Vandross], then it was Michael [Jackson] and Whitney [Houston], now this….”
The sobering reality is that our modern musical icons are slipping away and on June 7, (a day that I had lovingly always cherished as my high school graduation date) Prince won’t be celebrating another birthday. After some 39 studio, four live and six compilation albums along with countless other works, there may never be another (well, probably not without his estate dipping into the famed "vault").
In my tearful mourning, I offer up the fact that the world will never be the same – the world of music, my world or that of the millions of us who watched in awe as Prince Rogers Nelson changed the world one song at a time.
Prince was a global star, one that united races and generations. In my college years, I once hung out with a bunch of Parisians at a bar in the New Orleans French Quarter. We couldn’t speak each other’s language, but together, we sang several rounds of “Purple Rain” effortlessly.
Prince is among a class of musicians that most artists on their best day will never measure up to. He and Michael often battled for top billing (Prince once even famously boasted, “you gotta be a Prince before you’re King anyway”). The fact of the matter is that both deserved and earned a spot at the sparkly table of musical innovators who shall forever be emulated but never duplicated.
On April 21, 2016, as we Prince fans hang our purple flags at half staff, we must bow down to the awesome talent that was His Royal Badness. We must remember him as a talented musician, who was above everything a teacher.
He was the only straight guy who could get away with rocking ruffles, cascading curls, eyeliner and high heels and still stroll in arm-in-arm with hottest chick in the building.
He was the guy who, through his own brand of musical mastery, taught those of us who were too young to know firsthand, about the legend of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Sly And The Family Stone, along with the other greats that paved his way to his big, white mansion known as Paisley Park.
Prince was a lover of music and a champion of artists. More importantly, he was an advocate for artist rights who was willing to use his own celebrity to expose the ugly, underbelly of the music industry – one that has left even the most talented among us to die penniless with no rights to their own work.
During his royal reign – nearly four decades strong – he even went nameless in his fight with Warner Brothers and etched the word “slave” on his face to prove his point.
And then there’s that line from his Emancipation song “Face Down,” when he told the music industry to bury him face down, so they could kiss his you-know-what. Thankfully, that won’t be necessary because while he was alive he stood up for fairness and equity for all artists.
April 21, 2016, is a historic day and a sad one too, but we must work hard to resist the urge to walk around with a depressing Purple Rain cloud suspended over our heads. Instead, we should celebrate the life and talent of a legend.
Today let us all remember Prince Rogers Nelson as one of The Beautiful Ones who shared with us all his awe-inspiring gift of beautiful music.