On April 21, 2016, Minnesota lost one of its most cherished sons. That night, thousands of mourners gathered on First Avenue in Minneapolis to belt the lines of “Purple Rain.” Landmarks around the world, including the Chicago skyline, lit up with shades of violet and lavender to remember “The Purple One.” Prince had passed away.
You might have known him best as the principal artist on your mother’s workout playlist, or maybe as the man who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol during the 90s. His signature look involved heeled boots, frilled shirts, and mascara. (Although he donned a pair of “assless chaps” for one unforgettable performance). And of course, the color purple. Lots and lots of purple.
Born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958 to a pair of musicians living in Minneapolis, Prince showed his talents for singing, songwriting and the guitar from a young age. At 20 years old, he signed with his first label. Over the next 37 years, he would create 39 studio albums, receive an Oscar for best original film score, win seven Grammys, appear in four feature films and be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, among scores of other accomplishments.
Prince became an international star that pushed barriers with his music and his style. He was famous, he was mysterious, he was dirty. Al Gore’s wife created the Parental Advisory label in 1985 after hearing Prince’s explicit reference to masturbation in the song “Darling Nikki.” His sexually suggestive lyrics and androgynous stage outfits explored different kinds of sexuality and questioned gender norms. He also advocated for female artists and other artists of color in an industry that frequently practiced discrimination.
Prince’s signature blend of R&B, funk, rock and synth pop, coined the “Minneapolis sound,” inspired artists from Justin Timberlake to Janelle Monae. Following his death, journalists, friends, artists and fans shared the memorable moments they had with artist, from the time he destroyed Kirk Douglas’s guitar to his quiet support of causes like environmentalism and Black Lives Matter.
The music world was shocked to hear about his death, but as Prince himself would tell you, “Sometimes I wish that life was never ending, but all good things, they say, never last.”
Editor's note: The video at the top of the story was added Jan. 8 2017 at 4:53 p.m.