One of the most significant figures in contemporary pop music, Prince is a singer, songwriter and arranger and skilled on many instruments (though guitar is his main "axe"). Immensely influential, he emerged virtually unheralded from mid-America, bringing with him an encyclopedic knowledge of musical history, with the ability to draw from his extensive roots while creating something exciting and new.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, MN, on June 7, 1958, and named after his father, a jazz musician who fronted the "Prince Roger Trio." Gaining proficiency on many instruments, he led his first band - Grand Central - while in junior high school. Signed to the Warner Bros. label at eighteen, Prince was allowed from the beginning to produce his own records. While his single "Soft and Wet" barely brushed the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100 chart in late 1978, its follow-up, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," hit No. 11, and he was seldom out of the Top 20 for the next twenty years, with singles including "Little Red Corvette," "Delirious," "Let's Go Crazy," "Raspberry Beret," "U Got the Look," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," and many more. "Nineteen Ninety-Nine" became the unofficial anthem of the decade-end millennium celebration, seventeen years after its release; and "Purple Rain" the title song from his first motion picture, quickly became his signature tune, Following that semi-autobiographical 1984 picture, Prince starred in "Under the Cherry Moon," "Sign 'O' the Times," and "Graffiti Bridge," and supplied songs for director Tim Burton's first Batman movie.
Stars who began as Prince protégés include Wendy (Melvoin) & Lisa (Coleman), Sheila E., The Time, and Carmen Electra. Songs he "gave away" became hits for acts including The Bangles ("Manic Monday") and Sheena Easton ("Sugar Walls"); and "Kiss" was successfully revived by The Art of Noise, featuring Tom Jones.
Though an early tour opening for the Rolling Stones was poorly-received by many members of the Stones' audience, Prince went on to become a very strong concert performer, whether headlining major halls or dropping in for unannounced or last-minute performances at small clubs. A typical Prince show would be a virtual history of African-American pop music, with the singer and his topnotch band performing or referencing material ranging from Duke Ellington to often-extended versions of his own originals.
In 1993, at odds with his record label, Prince changed his name to an evidently-original symbol. Amazingly, even those who didn't have to - the press, for instance - often played along with the affectation, though most were doubtless relieved when he began to settle for "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince." In 2000, he reclaimed "Prince." Four years later, following numerous albums released on his own label and a few distributed by others, he signed with Sony Music for his latest "comeback" album, Musicology, conveniently timed to coincide with a major tour and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.