Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, MN; son of John Nelson (a jazz pianist) and Mattie Shaw (a singer); married Mayte Garcia (a dancer), 1996; marriage annulled, 1998; married Manuela Testolini, December 31, 2001. Addresses: Home--Minneapolis, MN; NPG/Bellmark, 7060 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 1000, Hollywood, CA 90028; Web site--Prince Official Website: http://www.npgmusicclub.com.

Pop stars frequently alter their names, but rarely has a change of moniker caused a stir like the name change by the artist formerly known as Prince. On his 35th birthday in 1993, the enigmatic multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and singer-songwriter announced he was changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. "I'm still Prince," he explained to Larry King, as quoted in People."I just use a different sound for my name, which is none." After seven years of life as an unpronounceable symbol, Prince reclaimed his given name in 2000, after a restricting contract with Warner Bros. that had caused much controversy expired at the end of the previous year. He signed with Sony Columbia in 2004, releasing an award-winning album soon afterward.

As Prince, of course, he was one of the most consistent hit makers in contemporary music, fusing soul, funk, rock, and power pop into a distinctive, exuberant brew; his unflinchingly erotic (and often simply raunchy) lyrics managed a kind of sacredness, thanks to his apparent sincerity. He displayed an astounding versatility, both in the studio--playing some two dozen instruments, multitracking vocals, and arranging music for his bands--and onstage, where he would participate in elaborate choreography even while peeling off pyrotechnic guitar solos.

As Guitar Player's Chris Gill commented, "Few artists of his stature are as talented in one area as Prince is in many." In his post-Prince existence the symbol-artist quickly embarked on a series of ventures--including a new independent record label, New Power Generation (replacing Paisley Park, Prince's old imprint that was dismantled by Warner Bros. in the mid-1990s), a musical based on an ancient Greek text, a retail clothing outlet, and an interactive CD-ROM program--and promised that his new music would make the old pale by comparison. By midyear 2000 the new artist without a name had gone the way of the old Prince, in deference to the third iteration, as talented and energetic as ever, and bowing in with his full given name: Prince Rogers Nelson.

Multi-Instrumental Prodigy

The artist was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was named for the Prince Rogers Trio, a jazz group fronted by his father, John Nelson. His mother, Mattie, occasionally sang with the combo, but the Nelsons ultimately found less harmony in their marriage than in the music and went their separate ways. Young Prince's relationship with Mattie's second husband, Hayward Baker, was difficult, but Baker unwittingly helped set his stepson's musical career in motion by taking him to a concert by singer-bandleader and "Godfather of Soul" James Brown. Prince was only ten years old, but Brown's electrifying stew of funk, soul, and energetic showmanship seared itself onto his imagination, as would the fiery guitar of Jimi Hendrix, the communal dance-uplift of Sly & the Family Stone, and the otherworldly funk of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic in the coming years.

By age 12, Prince had begun teaching himself to play the guitar Nelson had given him, but the rockiness of his home life meant that he rarely had a firm address; he stayed with Nelson and with the family of his friend Andre Anderson. The Anderson clan eventually adopted him. Prince would soon master the drums, bass, piano, and saxophone.

Prince signed a contract with Warner Bros. while still in his teens, and by 1978 he had released his debut, For You,, which featured the single "Soft and Wet." Working with his band the Revolution, Prince developed his trademark mix of funk workouts, soul balladry, and metallic guitar wailing--overlaid with his silky falsetto vocals--on a series of subsequent efforts: Prince, Dirty Mind, and Controversy. But he made his first huge splash with 1999, an ambitious double-length recording that exploded thanks to the apocalyptic dance music of the title track and the crossover sensation, "Little Red Corvette." The album remained on the charts for two years, by which time the film and album, Purple Rain, had established Prince as one of pop's megastars.

More Milestones

Though the movie Purple Rain--conceived by and starring Prince--received lukewarm reviews, it earned nearly ten times what it cost to make. The soundtrack, meanwhile, was a sensation, and featured both his most daring and his most commercially successful work to date. Featuring the enigmatic single "When Doves Cry"--"his shining hour, in terms of a commercially viable artistic statement," according to Down Beat--as well as the barn-burning "Let's Go Crazy" and the shimmering balladry of the title song, the collection earned Prince an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. It eventually sold well over ten million copies in the United States alone.

R&B siren Chaka Khan scored a huge hit covering Prince's early song "I Feel for You," and several years later Sinead O'Connor sang a smash rendition of his "Nothing Compares 2 U." Yet Prince's artistic restlessness meant that he rarely attempted to emulate past successes, even multiplatinum ones. Thus, the artist recorded the baroque pop and winsome psychedelia of Around the World in a Day--with its playful hit "Raspberry Beret"--and the funkified Parade, which served as the soundtrack to the less popular film Under the Cherry Moon.

But it was 1987's Sign O' the Times that suggested another milestone in Prince's varied career. Once again cramming a panoply of song styles into a double disc, Prince performed a duet with Scottish diva Sheena Easton on the hit "U Got the Look" and scored again with the single "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man."

Prince's various proteges--including Apollonia and Vanity--fared poorly on his new record label/production complex, Paisley Park, which opened its doors in 1987. He himself hit what many regard as a fallow period in the next few years. His suite of songs for Tim Burton's film, Batman, sold well but suggested something of a creative letdown to critics, while 1990's Graffiti Bridge was a sprawling omnibus recording featuring the Time, funk heavyweight George Clinton, Mavis Staples, newcomer Tevin Campbell, and others, but which lacked the focus of his mid-1980s work. But he assembled a stellar backup group that he called the New Power Generation and showed them off to fine effect on the 1991 collection, Diamonds & Pearls. Prince was named Best Songwriter that year by Rolling Stone's readers and opened a nightclub franchise called Glam Slam a bit later, appearing at its various locales periodically and using them as showcases for Paisley Park acts.

The following year saw the release of an album bearing only a symbol as its title. The glyph appeared to be a combination of the symbols for male and female, with a hornlike flourish running through the middle. Though the album featured the song "My Name Is Prince," it was not long before the unpronounceable symbol became the artist's new moniker. Warner Bros. announced the dissolution of Paisley Park, which fueled an already hot controversy between the artist and his label. Prince was producing new albums at a much faster rate than the label was willing to release them, and that angered him. On top of that, the label refused to sell his masters back to him, ensuring that they would have rights to all of his hits for years to come. He sought legal counsel to get out of his contract with Warner Bros. Having allegedly stockpiled some 500 of Prince's songs, the label was in possession of sufficient Prince material to cover any remaining contractual obligation.

The Artist

In 1993 Prince released his long-awaited greatest hits package, a three-CD set that included favorites from all his albums and a number of B-sides and rarities. Despite some qualms, an Entertainment Weekly review was enthusiastic: "Mostly The Hits remind us that Prince started out his career breaking both musical ground and a few sociocultural taboos. Now that he's calling himself [symbol] and writing musicals based on Homer's Odyssey, we need all the reminders we can get." Warner Bros. released several albums against Prince's wishes in the coming years, including the uneven Come and The Black Album, a rap album Prince famously shelved years back. The album was only available for several months in stores before it was pulled from distribution. Time's David Thigpen remarked, after hearing the long-shrouded album's contents, that Prince had "anticipated the decidedly unlovesexy anger and violence in the gangster rap of the 1990s," and added, "In [1987], listeners probably wouldn't have known what to make of its bitter outlook; today it is almost conventional."

Meanwhile, the artist formerly known as Prince, or The Artist, as he came to be known among bewildered music writers, declared that his new music would surpass all of Prince's output. As if to prove the point, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," his first single as the symbol--funded and released by Prince--hit the number three position on the United States charts. Meanwhile, he was still embroiled in legal battles with Warner. Prince has been quoted in numerous interviews, including one with Ebony magazine in 1997, as saying, "If you don't own your masters, the master will own you." He felt Warner left him with little control over his own music, the timetable it was released on, and the way it was marketed. Prince began appearing in public and at concerts with "SLAVE" scrawled across his face. Finally, a compromise was reached between the artist and the label, one that allowed Warner Bros. to release two more Prince albums before his contractual obligation ended.

The Gold Experience, the first of the final two Warner Bros. albums, was released in the fall of 1995 to good reviews. Chaos and Disorder followed in the summer of 1996, and Prince was a free artist after that. He set up his own label, New Power Generation (NPG), and released the three-disc Emancipation, intending the album to be a commercial blockbuster and spawn hit singles for years to come. Although no songs from the album were as big as previous Prince hits, the set sold over two million copies and received overwhelming critical praise. A Salon reviewer wrote, "He dipped into the bottomless well of inspiration that has always been available to him, but this time he focused, creating arrangements neatly tailored to each song's profile." USA Today agreed, saying Emancipation "[showcases] a rare ability to master and manipulate any motif." Detroit Free Press called it "a whopping reminder that the former Prince is one of the most creative musical innovators of the late 20th century."

Personal Life Entered New Phase

Prince's personal life entered a new phase at the same time as his business life did. He married Mayte Garcia, a Puerto Rican-born dancer, on Valentine's Day in 1996. The couple had a son who died a week after birth from a rare skeletal disorder. Prince has never publicly spoken of or even confirmed the widely reported event. The marriage lasted about two years; Prince annulled his marriage to Garcia in 1998 with the explanation in Time that "Mayte and I are joined for life, and the best way to demonstrate it is to do away with the legal bonds that people demand." As a sign of that bond, they repledged their love to each other in a symbolic ceremony on Valentine's Day in 1999. A divorce settlement was reported in 2000, and Prince married Manuela Testolini on December 31, 2001.

Prince released Crystal Ball, a collection of outtakes and unreleased material, in 1998. He made the multi-disc set available through mail order only at first. Fans who ordered the set through Prince's Web site or by calling an 800 number were promised a bonus fifth disc, but their albums did not arrive until months after it was commercially released, and some sets did not contain the bonus fifth disc. The whole ordeal left many fans disgruntled and disenchanted. But, as Salon writer David Rubien pointed out, "Anyone who successfully acquired the set ... couldn't really complain: It had enough deep grooves, crucial jams, and sheer fun to keep a fan occupied for years." Another album of new material, New Power Soul, was released three months after Crystal Ball. Many fans overlooked the new disc, not realizing that Prince put out another album so soon after Crystal Ball.

Predictably, Prince's early-1980s hit, "1999," became a new millennium anthem, and Prince released a remix collection, 1999 (The New Master) to celebrate the coming of the new century. At a concert on the eve of the millennium, Prince played his hit "1999" for the final time. "After this party, there's no need to play it again," he told the crowd, as reported by People reporter Steve Dougherty.

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic was released late in 1999. Time praised it as "a terrific album, full of some of The Artist's freshest, most focused music in years." That praise was echoed by critics across the globe. There were many significant changes in this album compared with his other post-Warner Bros. recordings. For one, it was released on Arista, making it his first major label release since the dissolution of contract with Warner Bros. It features big-name guest stars including Ani DiFranco, Eve, Maceo Parker, Gwen Stefani, and Sheryl Crow. Perhaps the biggest change was the producer of the album: Prince. Not The Artist, but Prince.

In mid-2000, The Artist adopted his given name of Prince Rogers Nelson once again, after his contract with Warner Bros. officially expired on December 31, 1999. "I will now go back to using my name instead of the symbol I adopted to free myself from all undesirable relationships," the musician stated in a press conference, as was reported in Jet.

Prince released The Rainbow Children on Redline Entertainment in 2002. The album focuses on his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness faith. The album is likely to appeal only to die-hard fans, All Music Guide writer Stephen Erlewine wrote, and it runs the risk of turning even those fans off because "his message [as a Jehovah's Witness] doesn't support the music and doesn't fit with the sounds or the approach." His record label and press agent billed it as his most controversial album to date, but Erlewine did not agree. "If Prince hadn't marginalized himself through his record company battles, multi-disc sets, and botched superstar comebacks, this could have been genuinely controversial, since people would be paying attention to what he's doing."

In 2004 Prince signed a one-record deal with Columbia. The album, Musicology, sold well and earned numerous awards, including two Grammys and an Image Award. Likewise, Prince embarked on a Musicology Tour, which earned $87.4 million and was reportedly the biggest grossing tour of that year.

by Simon Glickman

Prince's Career

Recording and performing artist, 1976-. Released debut album, For You, Warner Bros., 1978; formed, and headed own subsidiary label, Paisley Park, 1987-93; produced and/or wrote for other artists, including the Time, Mavis Staples, Vanity, and others, 1980-; starred in films Purple Rain, 1984; Under the Cherry Moon, 1986; Sign O' the Times, 1987; and Graffiti Bridge, 1990; provided songs for films Batman, 1989, and I'd Do Anything, 1993; wrote songs for stage musical Glam Slam Ulysses, 1993; changed name to an unpronounceable symbol and announced retirement of the artist known as Prince from recording, 1993; released EP, The Beautiful Experience, NPG/Bellmark, 1993; debuted interactive CD-ROM software and New Power Generation retail establishments, 1994; released Emancipation, 1996; Crystal Ball, 1998; and New Power Soul, 1998, on independent New Power Generation label; controversial contract dissolution with Warner Bros., 1999; returned to the use of the name Prince, 2000; released Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic on NPG/Arista, 1999; released The Rainbow Children on the Redline Entertainment label, 2002; signed with Sony/Columbia label, 2004; released Musicology, 2004; Musicology tour, 2004.

Prince's Awards

Academy Award, Best Original Song Score for film Purple Rain, 1984; three Grammy Awards, 1984; People's Choice music awards, Best New Song for "Purple Rain" and Best Male Musical Performer, 1985; Grammy Award, Best R&B Performance for "Kiss," 1986; named top urban contemporary artist of the past 20 years, Radio & Records 20th anniversary celebration; World Music Award for outstanding contribution to the pop industry, 1994; two Grammy Awards, 2004; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2004; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award, 2005; NAACP Vanguard Award, 2005; numerous American Music Awards and Rolling Stone readers' polls and critics' picks awards.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

March 21, 2006: Prince's album, 3121, was released. He celebrated the event with a surprise appearance at Sunset Tower Records in Hollywood, California. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-03-22-prince-surprise_x.htm, March 22, 2006.

June 27, 2006: Prince won the BET award for best male R&B artist. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, June 30, 2006.

July 2006: Prince ceased operation of his Web site, NPGMusicClub.com, indicating that the site had run its course. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, July 23, 2006.

May 24, 2006: Prince's wife, Manuela Testolini, filed for divorce after six years of marriage. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/Music/07/26/prince.divorce.reut/index.html, July 31, 2006.

Further Reading

Sources

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almost 6 years ago

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