Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Prince's Purple Reign

I remember clearly the first time I heard about Prince. Every girl in my class was totally in love with this cute guy that sang in a breathy, sexy falsetto. But it wasn’t immediately clear that he would kick down so many barriers with his stiletto-clad feet and permanently tattoo his mark on music, when Prince arrived on the scene in 1978. His lush afro and bedroom eyes captured the imaginations of teen girls who helped make his first release, ‘Soft & Wet,” a minor R&B hit from his debut album, “For You”. Filled with sexual references and coos and moans, it was a telling indicator of the musician’s future status as a sex symbol and provocateur but nothing more. The fact that the 19-year-old had produced, arranged and played every instrument on every song should have been a clue to his greatness but it was the end of the '70s. Music genres were strictly defined and its stars neatly boxed in. But things were shifting. Rock was embracing elements of new wave , funk was blending more into R&B and pop was developing a rawer edge. Music was changing but we had no idea that Prince would brilliantly embody all of those changes.

By the time the world glimpsed Prince in his iconic 1984 movie “Purple Rain,” he was already an
musical genius with three platinum albums. The movie and the accompanying album
would make him into a global superstar. But not a cookie cutter superstar: he defied labels, genres,
categories, even fashion. Prince seamlessly blended pop, rock, funk and R&B so that they flowed
into his singular sound. That’s not to say that he didn’t honor and acknowledge his influences,
however. During his Chicago shows, he never failed to pay tribute to blues and R&B legends, He
played a Howlin’ Wolf cover during one Metro after party, featured Chaka Khan at his ‘90s era
Aragon concert and served up an Impressions tribute during his last show at the City Winery, Prince
revered his musical and forefathers and mothers even while he tore apart and reassembled their legacies. He dreamed and dared what nobody had managed to do or get away with before him. He wore heels and feathers and makeup in a genre where masculinity was paramount. He sang about threesomes and race and politics in an era when songs rarely reached below the surface. As Prince’s influence grew, he reached back and guided the upcoming generation, mentoring, and offering musical inspiration.
Prince’s musical legacy is solidly secure, with an induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, seven
Grammys and 14 Platinum albums. He also leaves a legacy for quietly funding charities and causes
and eagerly opening the door for young musicians. That penchant was brilliantly illustrated when he
tapped Chicago-area producer Joshua Welton, and bestowed him with the honor of co- producing
Prince’s last album, “HitNRun.”Welton was the first outside producer Prince allowed in his career
spanning 30 albums. The 25-year-old represents Prince’s wide-ranging influence on everybody from millennials to senior fans like Eric Clapton, who famously suggested to ask Prince when he was queried about how it felt to be the world’s best guitarist.. “My opinion of cool has definitely changed. When you’ve got someone who can hear the flowers bloom, you listen to music in a different way,” Welton told USA Today. We'll always hear music differently, thank's to Prince's Purple Reign.

I wrote this tribute for the Illinois Entertainer. where it originally appeared.