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Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, the son of Mattie Della (née Shaw; 1933–2002) and John Lewis Nelson(1916–2001). His parents were both African American, and his family ancestry is centered in Louisiana; all four of his grandparents came from that state. Prince's father was a pianist and songwriter and his mother was a jazz singer. Prince was named after his father, whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and who performed with a jazz group called the Prince Rogers Trio. In a 1991 interview with A Current Affair, Prince's father said, "I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do". Prince's childhood nickname was Skipper.
Prince said that he was "born epileptic" and "used to have seizures" when he was young. He also stated that "My mother told me one day I walked in to her and said, 'Mom, I'm not going to be sick anymore,' and she said, 'Why?' and I said, 'Because an angel told me so'."
Prince's sister Tika Evene (usually called Tyka) was born in 1960. Both siblings developed a keen interest in music, and this was encouraged by their father. Prince wrote his first tune, "Funk Machine", on his father's piano when he was seven. When Prince was ten years old, his parents separated. Prince repeatedly switched homes following the separation, sometimes living with his father and sometimes with his mother and stepfather. He then moved into the home of neighbors named Anderson and befriended their son Andre Anderson, who later became known as André Cymone.
Prince and Anderson joined Prince's cousin Charles Smith in a band called Grand Central when they were attending Minneapolis's Central High School. In 1973, he met Jimmy Jam in junior high, and impressed him during musical class with his musical talent, his early mastery of a wide range of instruments, and his work ethic. In Grand Central, Smith was later replaced by Morris Day on the drums. Prince played piano and guitar for the band, which performed at clubs and parties in the Minneapolis area. Grand Central later changed its name to Champagne and started playing original music influenced by Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and Todd Rundgren. Prince also played basketball in high school, and continued the sport recreationally as an adult.
In 1975, Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince's cousin, Shauntel, formed the band 94 East with Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry. Willie hired André Cymone and Prince to record tracks with 94 East. Those songs were written by Willie and Prince contributed guitar tracks. Prince also co-wrote, with Willie, the 94 East song, "Just Another Sucker". The band recorded tracks which later became the album Minneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings. In 1995, Willie released the album 94 East featuring Prince, Symbolic Beginning, which included original recordings by Prince and Cymone.
In 1976, Prince created a demo tape with producer Chris Moon in Moon's Minneapolis studio. Unable to secure a recording contract, Moon brought the tape to Owen Husney, a Minneapolis businessman. Husney signed Prince, at the age of 17, to a management contract and helped Prince create a demo recording at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis using producer/engineer David Z. The demo recording, along with a press kit produced at Husney's ad agency, resulted in interest from several record companies including Warner Bros. Records, A&M Records, and Columbia Records.
With the help of Husney, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros.. The record company agreed to give Prince creative control for three albums and ownership of the publishing rights. Husney and Prince then left Minneapolis and moved to Sausalito, California, where Prince's first album, For You, was recorded at Record Plant Studios., The album was mixed in Los Angeles and released on April 7, 1978. According to the For You album notes, Prince produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording. The album was written and performed by Prince, except for the song "Soft and Wet" which had lyrics co-written by Moon. The cost of recording the album was twice Prince's initial advance. Prince used the Prince's Music Co. to publish his songs. "Soft and Wet" reached No. 12 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song "Just as Long as We're Together" reached No. 91 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
In 1979, Prince created a band with André Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, and Bobby Z. on drums. Their first show was at the Capri Theater on January 5, 1979. Warner Bros. executives attended the show but decided that Prince and the band needed more time to develop his music. In October 1979, Prince released the album, Prince, which was No. 4 on the Billboard Top R&B/Black Albums charts, and No. 22 on the Billboard 200, going platinum. It contained two R&B hits: "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover". "I Wanna Be Your Lover" sold over a million copies, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 for two weeks on the Hot Soul Singles chart. Prince performed both these songs on January 26, 1980, on American Bandstand. On this album, Prince used Ecnirp Music – BMI.
In 1980, Prince released the album Dirty Mind, later described by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as a "stunning, audacious amalgam of funk, new wave, R&B, and pop, fueled by grinningly salacious sex and the desire to shock." Recorded in his own studio, the album was certified gold and the single "Uptown" reached No. 5 on the Billboard Dance chart and No. 5 on the Hot Soul Singles charts. Prince was also the opening act for Rick James' 1980 Fire It Up tour. Dirty Mind contained sexually explicit material, including the title song, "Head", and the song "Sister". In February 1981, Prince made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing "Partyup". In October 1981, Prince released the album, Controversy. He played several dates in support of it, at first as one of the opening acts for the Rolling Stones, on their US tour. He began 1982 with a small tour of college towns where he was the headlining act. The songs on Controversy were published byControversy Music – ASCAP, a practice he continued until the Emancipation album in 1996. By 2002, MTV.com noted that "[n]ow all of his titles, liner notes and Web postings are written in his own shorthand spelling, as seen on 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, which featured 'Hot Wit U.'"
In 1981, Prince formed a side project band called the Time. The band released four albums between 1981 and 1990, with Prince writing and performing most of the instrumentation and backing vocals (sometimes credited under the pseudonyms "Jamie Starr" or "The Starr Company"), with lead vocals by Morris Day. In late 1982, Prince released a double album,1999, which sold over three million copies. The title track was a protest against nuclear proliferation and became his first top ten hit in countries outside the US. Prince's "Little Red Corvette" was one of the first two videos by a black artist played in heavy rotation on MTV, along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean". The song "Delirious" also placed in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "International Lover" earned Prince his first Grammy Award nomination at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards.
During this period Prince referred to his band as the Revolution. The band's name was also printed, in reverse, on the cover of 1999 inside the letter "I" of the word "Prince". The band consisted of Lisa Coleman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z. on drums, Brown Mark on bass, and Dez Dickerson on guitar. Jill Jones, a backing singer, was also part of The Revolution line up for the 1999 album and tour. Following the 1999 Tour, Dickerson left the group for religious reasons. In the 2003 book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, author Alex Hahn says that Dickerson was reluctant to sign a three-year contract and wanted to pursue other musical ventures. Dickerson was replaced by Coleman's friend Wendy Melvoin. At first the band was used sparsely in the studio but this gradually changed during the mid-1980s.
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According to Prince's former manager Bob Cavallo, in the early 1980s Prince required that his management obtain a deal for him to star in a major motion picture, despite the fact that his exposure at that point was limited to several pop music hits and music videos. This resulted in the 1984 hit film Purple Rain, which starred Prince and was loosely based on his own life, and the studio album of the same name, which was also the soundtrack to the film. The Purple Rain album sold more than 13 million copies in the US and spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The film won Prince an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and grossed over $68 million in the US. Songs from the film were hits on pop charts around the world; "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" reached No. 1 and the title track reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. At one point in 1984, Prince simultaneously had the No. 1 album, single, and film in the US; it was the first time a singer had achieved this feat. The Purple Rain album is ranked 72nd in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and is also included on the list of Time magazine's All-Time 100 Albums. The album produced two of Prince's first three Grammy Awards earned at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards—Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
After Tipper Gore heard her 11-year-old daughter Karenna listening to Prince's song "Darling Nikki", she founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The center advocates the mandatory use of a warning label ("Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics") on the covers of records that have been judged to contain language or lyrical content unsuitable for minors. The recording industry later voluntarily complied with this request.
In 1985, Prince announced that he would discontinue live performances and music videos after the release of his next album. His subsequent recording Around the World in a Dayheld the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 for three weeks. From that album, the single "Raspberry Beret" reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and "Pop Life" reached No. 7.
In 1986 his album Parade reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the R&B charts. The first single, "Kiss", with the video choreographed by Louis Falco, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. (The song was originally written for a side project calledMazarati.) In the same year, the song "Manic Monday", which was written by Prince and recorded by The Bangles, reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart. The album Parade served as the soundtrack for Prince's second film, Under the Cherry Moon. Prince directed and starred in the movie, which also featured Kristin Scott Thomas. Although the Parade album went platinum, Under the Cherry Moon received poor reviews and failed to recoup its production costs at the box office. The film received a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture (tied with Howard the Duck) and Prince received Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director, Worst Actor and Worst Original Song (for the song "Love or Money").
In 1986, Prince began a series of sporadic live performances called the Hit n Run – Parade Tour. After the tour Prince disbanded The Revolution and fired Wendy & Lisa. Brown Mark quit the band; keyboardist Doctor Fink remained. Prince recruited new band members Miko Weaver on guitar, Atlanta Bliss on trumpet, and Eric Leeds on saxophone.
Prior to the disbanding of The Revolution, Prince was working on two separate projects, The Revolution album Dream Factory and a solo effort, Camille. Unlike the three previous band albums, Dream Factory included input from the band members and featured songs with lead vocals by Wendy & Lisa. The Camille project saw Prince create a new persona primarily singing in a speeded-up, female-sounding voice. With the dismissal of The Revolution, Prince consolidated material from both shelved albums, along with some new songs, into a three-LP album to be titled Crystal Ball. Warner Bros. forced Prince to trim the triple album to a double album and Sign o' the Times was released on March 31, 1987.
The album peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The first single, "Sign o' the Times", charted at No. 3 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "If I Was Your Girlfriend" charted at No. 67 on the Hot 100, but went to No. 12 on R&B chart. The third single, a duet with Sheena Easton, "U Got the Look" charted at No. 2 on the Hot 100, No. 11 on the R&B chart, and the final single "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" finished at No. 10 on Hot 100 and No. 14 on the R&B chart.
It was named the top album of the year by the Pazz & Jop critics' poll, and sold 3.2 million copies. In Europe it performed well, and Prince promoted the album overseas with a lengthy tour. Putting together a new backing band from the remnants of The Revolution, Prince added bassist Levi Seacer, Jr., keyboardist Boni Boyer, and dancer/choreographerCat Glover to go with new drummer Sheila E. and holdovers Miko Weaver, Doctor Fink, Eric Leeds, Atlanta Bliss, and the Bodyguards (Jerome, Wally Safford, and Greg Brooks) for the Sign o' the Times Tour.
The tour was a success overseas, with Warner Bros. and Prince's managers wanted to bring it to the US to promote sales of Sign o' the Times; Prince balked at a full US tour, as he was ready to produce a new album. As a compromise the last two nights of the tour were filmed for release in movie theaters. The film quality was deemed subpar and reshoots were performed at his Paisley Park studios. The film Sign o' the Times was released on November 20, 1987. The film got better reviews than Under the Cherry Moon, but its box-office receipts were minimal and it quickly left theaters.
The next album intended for release was to be The Black Album. More instrumental and funk and R&B themed than recent releases, The Black Album also saw Prince experiment with hip hop music on the songs "Bob George" and "Dead on It". Prince was set to release the album with a monochromatic black cover with only the catalog number printed, but after 500,000 copies had been pressed, Prince had a spiritual epiphany that the album was evil and had it recalled. It was later released by Warner Bros. as a limited edition album in 1994. Prince went back in the studio for eight weeks and recorded Lovesexy.
Released on May 10, 1988, Lovesexy serves as a spiritual opposite to the dark The Black Album. Every song is a solo effort by Prince, except "Eye No" which was recorded with his backing band at the time. Lovesexy reached No. 11 on theBillboard 200 and No. 5 on the R&B albums chart. The lead single, "Alphabet St.", peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B chart; it sold 750,000 copies.
Prince again took his post-Revolution backing band (minus the Bodyguards) on a three leg, 84-show Lovesexy World Tour; although the shows were well received by huge crowds, they lost money due to the expensive sets and props.
In 1989, Prince appeared on Madonna's studio album Like a Prayer, co-writing and singing the duet "Love Song" and playing electric guitar (uncredited) on the songs "Like a Prayer", "Keep It Together", and "Act of Contrition". He also began work on several musical projects, including Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic and early drafts of his Graffiti Bridge film, but both were put on hold when he was asked by Batman director Tim Burton to record several songs for the upcoming live-action adaptation. Prince went into the studio and produced an entire nine-track album that Warner Bros. released on June 20, 1989. Batman peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 4.3 million copies.The single "Batdance" topped the Billboard and R&B charts.
The single "The Arms of Orion" with Sheena Easton charted at No. 36, and "Partyman" (also featuring the vocals of Prince's then-girlfriend, nicknamed Anna Fantastic) charted at No. 18 on the Hot 100 and at No. 5 on the R&B chart; the love ballad "Scandalous!" went to No. 5 on the R&B chart. He had to sign away all publishing rights to the songs on the album to Warner Bros. as part of the deal to do the soundtrack.
In 1990, Prince went back on tour with a revamped band for his back-to-basics Nude Tour. With the departures of Boni Boyer, Sheila E., the horns, and Cat, Prince brought in Rosie Gaines on keys, drummer Michael Bland, and dancing trio The Game Boyz (Tony M., Kirky J., and Damon Dickson). The European and Japanese tour was a financial success with a short, greatest hits setlist. As the year progressed, Prince finished production on his fourth film, Graffiti Bridge, and thealbum of the same name. Initially, Warner Bros. was reluctant to fund the film, but with Prince's assurances it would be a sequel to Purple Rain as well as the involvement of the original members of The Time, the studio greenlit the project.Released on August 20, 1990, the album reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and R&B albums chart. The single "Thieves in the Temple" reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B chart; "Round and Round" placed at No. 12 on the US charts and No. 2 on the R&B charts. The song featured the teenage Tevin Campbell (who also had a role in the film) on lead vocals. The film, released on November 20, 1990, was a box-office flop, grossing $4.2 million. After the release of the film and album, the last remaining members of The Revolution, Miko Weaver and Doctor Fink, left Prince's band.
1991 marked the debut of Prince's new band, the New Power Generation. With guitarist Miko Weaver and long-time keyboardist Doctor Fink gone, Prince added bass playerSonny T., Tommy Barbarella on keyboards, and a brass section known as the Hornheads to go along with Levi Seacer (taking over on guitar), Rosie Gaines, Michael Bland, and the Game Boyz. With significant input from his band members, Diamonds and Pearls was released on October 1, 1991. Reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart,Diamonds and Pearls saw four hit singles released in the United States. "Gett Off" peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100 and No. 6 on the R&B charts, followed by "Cream", which gave Prince his fifth US No. 1 single. The title track "Diamonds and Pearls" became the album's third single, reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100 and the top spot on the R&B charts. "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" peaked at No. 23 and No. 14 on the Hot 100 and R&B charts respectively.
In 1992 Prince and The New Power Generation released his 12th album, Love Symbol Album, bearing only an unpronounceable symbol on the cover (later copyrighted as Love Symbol #2). The album peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The label wanted "7" to be the first single, but Prince fought to have "My Name Is Prince" as he "felt that the song's more hip-hoppery would appeal to the same audience" that had purchased the previous album. Prince got his way but "My Name Is Prince" reached No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 23 on the R&B chart. The follow-up single "Sexy MF" charted at No. 66 on the Hot 100 and No. 76 on the R&B chart. The label's preferred lead single choice "7" reached No. 7. 'Love Symbol Album' went on to sell 2.8 million copies worldwide.
After two failed attempts in 1990 and 1991, Warner Bros. released a greatest hits compilation with the three-disc The Hits/The B-Sides in 1993. The first two discs were also sold separately as The Hits 1 and The Hits 2. It features the majority of Prince's hit singles (with the exception of "Batdance" and other songs that appeared on the Batmansoundtrack), and several previously hard-to-find recordings, including B-sides spanning the majority of Prince's career, as well as some previously unreleased tracks such as the Revolution-recorded "Power Fantastic" and a live recording of "Nothing Compares 2 U" with Rosie Gaines. Two new songs, "Pink Cashmere" and "Peach", were chosen as promotional singles to accompany the compilation album.
In rebellion against Warner Bros., which refused to release his enormous backlog of music at a steady pace, in 1993 Prince changed his name to , which was explained as a combination of the symbols for male (♂) and female (♀). In order to use the symbol in print media, Warner Bros. had to organize a mass mailing of floppy disks with a custom font. The symbol was soon dubbed "The Love Symbol" and until 2000, Prince was referred to as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" or simply "The Artist".
In 1994, Prince began to release albums in quick succession as a means of releasing himself from his contractual obligations to Warner Bros. The label, he believed, was intent on limiting his artistic freedom by insisting that he release albums more sporadically. He also blamed Warner Bros. for the poor commercial performance of the Love Symbol Album, claiming they had marketed it insufficiently. It was out of these developments that the aborted The Black Album was officially released, seven years after its initial recording. The "new" release was already in wide circulation as a bootleg, and sold relatively poorly. Warner Bros. then succumbed to Prince's wishes to release an album of new material, to be entitled Come; it became Prince's poorest-selling album to date, selling fewer than 500,000 copies. Prince credited the album to "Prince 1958–1993".
Prince pushed to have his next album The Gold Experience released simultaneously with Love Symbol-era material. Warner Bros. allowed the single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" to be released via a small, independent distributor,Bellmark Records, in February 1994. The release reached No. 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in many other countries, but it did not prove to be a model for subsequent releases. Warner Bros. still resisted releasing The Gold Experience, fearing poor sales and citing "market saturation" as a defense. When released in September 1995, The Gold Experience reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 initially. The album is now out of print.
Chaos and Disorder, released in 1996, was Prince's final album of new material for Warner Bros., as well as one of his least commercially successful releases. Prince attempted a major comeback later that year when, free of any further contractual obligations to Warner Bros., he released Emancipation, a 36-song, 3-CD set (each disc was exactly 60 minutes long). The album was released via his own NPG Records with distribution through EMI. To publish his songs onEmancipation, Prince did not use Controversy Music – ASCAP, which he had used for all his records since 1981, but rather used Emancipated Music Inc. – ASCAP.