Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He later changed his name four times. Prince’s early music career saw the release of Prince (1979), Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981)—all of which created controversy due to their fusion of religious and sexual themes. Prince later released the albums 1999 and Purple Rain, cementing his superstar status. He died on April 21, 2016
Famed singer, songwriter and musical innovator, Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota to parents John Nelson, a musician, and Mattie Shaw, a jazz singer. He was named after the Prince Roger Trio, a jazz band his father had performed with as a pianist. He became interested in music at a young age and taught himself how to play the piano, guitar and drums. His parents broke up when he was about 10, and he and his sister split their time between their parents’ homes, eventually moving in with neighbors, the Anderson family.
At 14, the musically inclined Prince was in his first band, Grand Central (later known as Champagne.) In 1978, Prince was signed to Warner Brother Records. In a 2009 interview with Tavis Smiley, Prince revealed that when he was a child, he suffered from epileptic seizures and that he was teased in school. He told Smiley: “. . .Early in my career I tried to compensate by being as flashy and as noisy as I could.”
Career Takes Off
In 1978, Prince released his debut album, For You, which was followed by Prince (1979), Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981)—all of which created controversy due to their fusion of religious and sexual themes. The singer found international success with the release of his 1982 album, 1999, which included hit singles like “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.”
The ’80s: Purple Rain and Beyond
With his band The Revolution, Prince went on to create the album Purple Rain (1984), which was also made into a film by the same name, grossing over $80 million at the U.S. box office. The film garnered an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. The title track “Purple Rain” hit no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the hits “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” both reached no. 1
In 1986 Prince released his eighth studio album Parade, which included his no. 1 hit single “Kiss.” Parade served as the soundtrack for the artist’s second film Under the Cherry Moon, which he directed and starred in.
After the disbanding of the Revolution, Prince was able to consolidate various shelved projects into what ultimately became the double album, Sign “O” the Times (1987). The album was Prince’s most critically acclaimed album to date, yet its sales lagged in the U.S., finding more success in Europe, where the artist launched a successful tour.
By the time he released his 11th studio album, Batman, in 1989, Prince had become one of America’s most commercially successful pop artists.
The Early ’90s: The New Power Generation
The early 1990s marked the launch of the New Power Generation, Prince’s new band. With their artistic contribution, Prince found success with his album Diamonds in Pearls (1991), which rose to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and included hits like “Cream” and “Diamonds and Pearls.”
In 1992 Prince and the New Power Generation released Love Symbol Album but it did not fare as well, only managing to have one top 10 hit, thanks to the single “7.” The lack of success created tension between Prince and his label Warner Bros. and for the ensuing years, the singer’s career went through a roller coaster of ups and downs. Turned off by feeling controlled by his record label, Prince changed his name to the unpronounceable glyph O(+> in 1993, which he used until 2000. During that time, he was more frequently referred to as “the artist formerly known as Prince,” and his new symbol was not embraced by most fans. Once he was released from all contractual obligations from Warner Bros., he released the album fittingly entitled Emancipation (1996), which went on to become certified platinum.
In Recent Years
In 2004, after several years of relative obscurity, Prince returned to the limelight to perform at the Grammy Awards with Beyonce Knowles. That spring, he released Musicology with a tour that became the top concert draw in the United States. The album won two Grammys. His next album, 3121, was released in 2006. That year, he wrote and performed “Song of the Heart” for the animated film Happy Feet, and won a Golden Globe (Best Original Song) for the composition. In 2007 he performed for the Super Bowl XLI halftime show on a massive stage shaped as his famous symbol amid pouring rain. The event was watched by 140 million fans.
2010 was the year of accolades for Prince. He not only was lauded by Billboard.com as the greatest Super Bowl performer ever, he was also featured in TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BET Awards. He ended the year with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On May 2, 2015, Prince staged a Dance Rally 4 Peace at his Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota to pay tribute to Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American who died in police custody after his arrest in Baltimore, and to show support for the activists protesting his death. With his backup band 3rd Eye Girl, Prince performed a 41-minute concert including his protest song “Baltimore,” which was inspired by Gray’s death.
Prince was extremely private about his personal life, and he preferred to spend time at his Paisley Park compound, away from the celebrity spotlight.
In the 1980s, Prince had a long on-and-off relationship with singer-songwriter Susannah Melvoin, the twin sister of Wendy Melvoin who was a guitarist in Prince’s band The Revolution. The couple was engaged in 1985, but was never married.
On Valentine’s Day 1996, Prince married backup singer and dancer Mayte Garcia. The couple had a son, who was born on October 16, 1996 and died a week later from Pfeiffer Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes skeletal abnormality. Prince and Garcia’s marriage was annulled in 1999 and they were divorced in 2000.
In 2001, Prince married his second wife, Manuela Testolini, who had been employed by one of his charitable organizations. That year he also became a Jehovah’s Witness, embracing his religious faith after years of study. According to an interview in Entertainment Weekly in 2015, he practiced his faith by abstaining “from drinking, swearing, and eating meat, and [had] been known to proselytize door-to-door.”
Prince’s marriage to Testolini ended in 2006, and a year later he had a brief relationship with one of his musical protégées, singer Bria Valente.
In March 2016, it was announced that the pop superstar was working on a memoir, tentatively titled The Beautiful Ones, that was scheduled for a fall 2017 release. According to Billboard magazine, Prince spoke to an audience at a music industry event about the memoir. “This is my first (book). My brother Dan is helping me with it. He’s a good critic and that’s what I need. He’s not a ‘yes’ man at all and he’s really helping me get through this. We’re starting from the beginning from my first memory and hopefully we can go all the way up to the Super Bowl.”
On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota. The week prior, his plane made an emergency landing and the singer was hospitalized for what was reportedly a severe case of the flu.