Pix of Prince with Roberta Flack at the Artist Empowerment Coalition luncheon at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards.
This article is a good tribute to Prince from a perspective that doesn’t get talked about enough. Please read the whole thing but I included below the portion that deals with Prince’s fight for racial justice in the record industry.
In the wake of his death Thursday at 57, radio stations played his biggest hits and fans came together to grieve. But beyond the chart-toppers and dance parties, the legacy of Prince Rogers Nelson grew to include political stances, challenges to record execs and an overarching focus on African-American empowerment.
It wasn’t the first time Prince connected his music to the fight for racial justice. He told The Associated Press in 2004 that he had chastised music industry bosses over rap and R&B that promoted sex, drugs and violence. “What you won’t show your kids, don’t show ours,” he said at the time.
Music journalist Kelley L. Carter said she thinks Prince saw racial inequality in that dispute and others, including his beef with music streaming services over artist pay that has left fans scrambling to find their favorite Prince songs. She said his defiance wasn’t about enriching himself, but about “trying to pave the way for the next generation.”
Carter, senior entertainment writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, a website about race, sports and culture, wrote recently about meeting Prince last year at his Paisley Park compound in suburban Minneapolis, where he threw a party for black journalists in town for a convention.
She said the conversation turned to the reported $400 million deal that brought the Beatles catalog to iTunes. Prince said he hadn’t been offered nearly as much, and when someone asked whether he thought he was being lowballed because he was black, Carter wrote, “He shot us all a ‘what-do-you-think?’ kind of look.”
Apple Inc. didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Prince signed on instead with Tidal, the music streaming service backed by Jay Z, telling Rolling Stone last year: “Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves. Jay Z spent $100 million of his own money to build his own service. We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”
He also told Ebony that artists should seek to control distribution, saying, “Where we finally get into a position to run things — we all should help.”
Prince also sent money to the family of Trayvon Martin after the unarmed Florida teen was shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, the Rev. Al Sharpton said recently on MSNBC.
Activist Van Jones said that after Martin’s death, Prince was influential in establishing #YesWeCode, an initiative to get more minorities into tech jobs. Jones recently told USA Today that Prince didn’t exclusively blame racism for the way some people view young blacks in hoodies as thugs instead of potential Facebook founders. Jones recalled Prince saying, “Maybe you civil rights guys haven’t created enough Mark Zuckerbergs.”
“Prince was very proudly black and a lot of the music that he played — you’ve got to remember the rock ‘n’ roll that some people said that was the ‘white’ side — no, rock ‘n’ roll was black music. Funk is black music. Ballads is black music,” Hill told the AP. “Prince was playing music that was true to his soul and true to his core.”
When I was 18 in my freshman year of attending Fairleigh Dickinson University I was under an amazing amount of stress as I finished up my first semester (long sad story). My family decided I could go up to spend the winter break with Aunt Gwen who lived in Edina, MN, just outside of St. Paul. Aunt Gwen & Uncle Alan (Leeds) had managed Prince’s Sign of the Times tour, and still worked very closely with him. I had so much fun on this visit with Aunt Gwen: She gave me my first camera for my birthday, which is how I have pictures of any of this… we went to the Mall of America, Byerly’s grocery store (the most amazing grocery store I had ever seen), cross country skiing, walking across an enormous frozen solid lake, amazing fancy dinners out (including one in a rotating rooftop restaurant where you can see a tiny, baby Mississippi River out of the window,) shopping (at Ragstock and all kinds of cool shops), I picked out awesome and amazing clothes from Aunt Gwen’s insane clothing collection, taped copies of lots of Alan & Gwen’s amazing music collection, took long bubble baths with all manner of pricey perfumes, oils, masks, lotions, (you name it! Aunt Gwen loves the HABA products just like I did especially back then, plus they stayed at tons of fancy hotels…), we had facials at the Aveda headquarters!, my 2nd professional manicure (I think the first was for my senior prom)… And we had TICKETS TO PRINCE’S PRIVATE NEW YEARS EVE CONCERT AND PARTY! But that was days away, and she just took me all around town with her for the whole time I was there. I went to work with Aunt Gwen at Paisley Park Studios. This was the lobby She showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of the people she worked with at the studio. I remember being especially thrilled that I got to take home a few buttons from wardrobe. It was in the wardrobe department that I got this pic of me wearing some sunglasses from wardrobe and holding up Prince’s outfit from the Hot Thing video.
So there we were, walking down one of the halls at the studio, and sure enough, here comes Prince with his girlfriend Susannah, (who was the twin sister of Wendy, of the musical pair Wendy and Lisa, Prince’s bandmates in the Revolution…). Aunt Gwen introduced us, and Susannah just flat out asked if I would like to join them in the studio, and Aunt Gwen (of course) is all “NO, she doesn’t need to go in there”, and I was dying of “yes yes yes please…” And they let me in.It was dimly lit, with a chair off to the side where I sat, and Prince sat at his Fairlight, which is a huge audio processing machine, and Susannah was kind of next to him but back a bit. I sat there for about 2-3 hours, quiet as a mouse, listening to Prince work on his new album. He was doing a song called The Line. I was in awe – completely silent (afraid to get thrown out). Prince spoke to me only very briefly, and I was soooo nervous I could barely reply. But still. I will never forget that experience as long as I live. This was during the time Prince was working on The Black Album. I only learned that later when I looked up the words I remembered him singing because it wasn’t something that ever came out in wide release.
Of course, cameras were strictly forbidden! That is my excuse for why this picture is so blurry – I was shaking and trying to be really quick about it! I snapped this just after Prince and Susannah walked out of the room.This is another shot from one of the studios (I’m sure it looks completely different now).
I have a few more shots from around the studio – I was being very sneaky, I don’t know how I wasn’t too scared. I really was terrified one of Prince’s “people” would catch me and confiscate my camera…The manicure and facials Aunt Gwen treated me to were in preparation for the big New Year’s Eve party thing. I wore a black velvet dress, long black gloves and my great great grandmother’s fur trimmed coat.
At our table was Prince’s younger half(?) brother, John. I think he might have been about 14 at the time. This is John and me from the photo thing at the party. Again, cameras were strictly forbidden, but they had this setup with a professional photographer so you could have some remembrance of the night.
At the party, I got to meet Morris Day and the Time, and then I was thrilled beyond words to meet Miles Davis, who kissed me on the cheek!!! I immediately ran to a pay phone to call my old boyfriend Matt, because I was dying to tell someone!!! There was caviar (which I tried) and champagne (which Aunt Gwen would never have let me have) and a really amazing concert that I was right up front for… I was too scared to take any photos for most of the night but I did snap this one pic as they were cleaning up at the end of the night
I have always loved Prince’s music, but to watch and listen to him at work was just magic for me. I know I was sooo lucky to have that experience. I will never forget it, but I sure am glad to have these few pics to remember it all. For this and so much more, Thanks Again, Aunt Gwen!