Prince, 1958–2016

Prince, 1958–2016

For pop music lovers, the early months of 2016 have not been good ones. It seems we were still absorbing the new of David Bowie’s death in January when, on April 21, we learned that Prince had passed away in his home. This remarkably talented and versatile songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and front man who had remained active since his 1978 debut album was still playing concerts shortly before his death. In fact, his last show took place on April 14 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, as part of his Piano & A Microphone tour, just a week before his passing.

Prince could rock an entire stadium, and his stage shows were often as colorful as his music. This was different, though. In a career that kept evolving, the last phase of his concert career featured just Prince and a piano. Those solo performances in small to modest-sized venues were the kind of intimate performances fans live for, and for someone as enigmatic as Prince to get up close and personal, well, that was even better.

Knowing that he touched the audiences so closely at the end makes it all the sadder now that he has left us. The musician who gave us hits like “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” and “Kiss,” who made the types of albums (1999, Purple Rain, and Sign o’ the Times among them) where you savored every cut, who played concerts where people who previously liked a couple hits were transformed into hardcore fans, is gone. All that’s left is his music, and there’s a lot of it. In upcoming months many Prince fans will return to the songs that were huge in the 1980s, when he was one of the highest-selling artists and reigned on MTV. These hits have held up well, and they definitely deserve our attention. At the same time, they were only a small part of his musical universe. For Prince the muses were never silent, making it difficult to work with record labels that prefer to release LPs at what must have seemed like a glacial pace. In spite of the vagaries of the music industry, he put out dozens of albums, and the amount of music that remained in the vaults is apparently staggering.

Prince’s detours and side projects are as engaging to some listeners as his better-known material; for me an example would be the instrumentals that became more common later in his career. If you’ve heard Prince deliver the goods on Billy Cobham’s “Stratus,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” and various songs by Santana, you know he could play funk, jazz, and Latin rock with authority; in fact, he could have modeled a whole career around his guitar playing. The fact that his instrumental excursions represents only a small portion of his musical output gives some measure of the scope of his talents. As we return to his discography—and, should the vaults be opened, hear previously unreleased music—our appreciation of his artistry will increase.

Photo Credit: NPG Records

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