Photo: Tambourine played by Prince during his 1990 Nude Tour 1990/Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
January 30, 1982. Prince begins his concert at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, with two minutes of a cappella gospel. In total darkness.
“It won’t be long
All of God’s children must learn 2 love
It won’t be long (I said it won’t be long)
Before the Second Coming, yeah
It won’t be long, no, it won’t be long
How many more good men must die before there’s gun control
U’ve got 2 love your brother if U want 2 free your soul (Soul, soul, soul)
It won’t be long (It won’t be long)
All of God’s, all of God’s children must learn 2 love.”
The crowd cheers and applauds as Prince’s voice soars over layers of impeccable harmonies. At one point, someone starts a soul clap. The song rises and falls, and the sonic climax consumes the space before coming back down to a beautiful, quiet resolution.
Video: Prince in concert 01/30/82, Capitol Theatre.
This is Prince. In 1982. He is touring under For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, and Controversy. But he opens with “The Second Coming,” a gospel song the world would never hear on record. It’s a song about holding on, and having love for each other. And gun control. Because even when Prince is presenting his most spiritual, centered self, he has a message for us. (Granted, he was working on a film project called The Second Coming, so inserting the song into various performances on this tour was part of that.)
On October 23, 2015, I was having a Prince moment. Even though my presence is a tiny blip on the radar of the Twittersphere, I needed to share that moment.
Yes, the rest of the concert is AMAZING, and deserves multiple views. However, it was the first two minutes that captivated me. I must have listened to them 50 times that day. Each time I heard something new, something that made me think about and appreciate this moment that Prince so artfully created for the audience (and the rest of us, over 20 years later).
Photo: Platinum Record Award for the album 1999 given to Prince. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
People bought tickets to this show to see Prince be PRINCE and destroy his guitar and sing his face off about sex and… Here they were, getting a beautiful, somber gospel song to start the show. Not a single person could be heard protesting, even while they were in total darkness. Audience members interacted with the song as if they were in church. Weren’t they in church? It’s like Prince was saying, “You’ll get your face melting show in a minute or two, but first, let me give you something. And in case you forgot, I am a spiritual, Black man in America and my music represents me and what I stand for.” In this moment—and throughout his body of work, of course—he is simultaneously continuing in and rerouting the trajectory of African American music-making.
So yesterday I came back to those two minutes. Again and again, I listened to “The Second Coming” with a completely new lens through which to experience that moment. And that’s what I’ve been focusing on today—the moments. The moments when Prince gave us something we didn’t know we needed until it became something we could not imagine living without. Whether a recorded song, live performance, or statement about the importance of albums and Black lives, Prince’s moments with us were always meaningful; always rooted in sonic and cultural complexities of the past.
Prince’s present was our future, and those moments with him will forever remain in our present.
Timothy Anne Burnside, Museum Specialist, Office of Curatorial Affairs, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ten Greatest R&B Bands of All-Time From About Entainment
1. Earth, Wind & Fire
Founded by Maurice White (who passed away February 3, 2016 at the age of 74) in Chicago in 1969, Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the greatest bands in music history. The group has sold over 100 million albums, including three triple platinum and two double platinum albums. Known as “The Elements of the Universe,” EW&F combines elements of African music, Latin music, R&B, jazz, and rock into a unique sound featuring the dynamic lead voice of Philip Bailey. Recording for over 40 years, the group has won six Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, four American Music Awards, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Earth, Wind & Fire’s concerts are legendary. In the 1970s and 1980s, the group featured amazing illusions, including bass player Verdine White performing while being levitated above the stage, and the members appearing and vanishing in transparent cylinders as if they were traveling through space via the Star Trek transporter beam. Earth, Wind & Fire has recorded numerous classics over five decades, including “After The Love Has Gone (1979), "Shining Star” (1975), and “That’s The Way of the World” (1975).
2. The Isley Brothers
Recording for over 50 years, The Isley Brothers began as a vocal trio in the 1950s in Cincinnati, Ohio with Ronald Isley as lead singer performing with brothers Rudolph and O'Kelly Isley. The group expanded to six members in 1973 with their 3 + 3 album. Younger brothers Ernie lsley (guitar) and Marvin Isley (bass) joined the group along with Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper (keyboards).
The Isley Brothers have released four double platinum, six platinum, and four gold albums. Seven of their singles have reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart. Two of their songs, “Shout,” and Twist and Shout.“ were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The Isleys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. They have also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a BET Lifetime Achievement Award.
George Clinton is the legendary leader of the bands Parliament and Funkadelic which record separately and perform together in concert. Parliament began in the 1960s in New Jersey as a doo-wop vocal group called The Parliaments, and Funkadelic served as their band. The Parliaments eventually evolved into a mainstream funk group under the name Parliament, and Funkadelic assumed its own identity as a psychedelic soul group inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone. Known collectively as Parliament-Funkadelic, P-Funk became the most outrageous African-American band of the 1970s and 80s, famous for landing the "Mothership” on stage during 4 hour marathon concerts. Mastermind Clinton is a genius lyricist who is idolized in the hip-hop world, and his talented musicians, especially keyboardist Bernie Worrell, bassist Bootsy Collins (from James Brown’s band), and guitarists Michael Hampton, Eddie Hazel, and Gary Shider are worshipped by rock fans.
Parliament-Funkadelic hit number one five times on the Billboard R&B singles chart, including “Flash Light” (1978), “One Nation Under A Groove” (1978), and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” (1979). P-Funk was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
4. Kool & The Gang
Formed in 1964 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kool & The Gang has been performing for over 50 years. Led by bass player Robert “Kool” Bell, the group began as a jazz instrumental band before transitioning into R&B and funk. Kool & The Gang has sold over 70 million records, including five platinum, three gold, and one double platinum album (Emergency in 1984). Its eight number one singles include “Celebration” (1980), “Ladies’ Night” (1979), “and "Joanna” (1983). Their honors include five American Music Awards, a Soul Train Legend Award, and a Grammy for Album of the Year for Saturday Night Fever (which included their song, “Open Sesame”).
5. Sly & the Family Stone
Formed in 1967 in San Francisco by Sylvester Stewart, Sly & The Family Stone was one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and 70s. They were the leaders of the “psychedelic soul” movement, combining R&B and rock into their own unique sound. The Family Stone were trailblazers with their integrated, multi-gender lineup. Their unforgettable performance at the historic Woodstock Festival in 1969 elevated their stature to one of the most revered acts in the world.
The group released three platinum albums, including the five times platinum Greatest Hits in 1970. They also recorded four number one singles including “Everyday People” (1968), “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (1969), and “Family Affair” (1971). The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
6. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
The group Maze featuring Frankie Beverly began as Raw Soul in Philadelphia in 1970. After moving to the San Francisco Bay area, they were discovered by Marvin Gaye who renamed the band, Maze. Beginning with their 1977 self-titled debut release, all of their eight studio albums have been certified gold, plus their 1981 Live In New Orleans album. Maze has two number one singles, “Back In Stride” in 1985, and “Can’t Get Over You” in 1989. Their signature song, “Before I Let Go,” only reached number 13 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1981, however, it is one of the greatest live party jams of all-time. Now in its fifth decade, Maze continues to be one of the top touring attractions in R&B, and is a favorite of the annual
7. The Commodores
Formed in 1968 on the campus of Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, The Commodores were one of the most successful R&B acts in he mid 1970s and early 1980s. Prior to releasing their first album Machine Gun on Motown Records in 1974, the band toured in 1971 as the opening act for The Jackson Five. With Lionel Richie as lead vocalist, the group recorded four number one albums, and six number one singles, including “Three Times Lady” (1978), “Easy” (1977), and “Still” (1979). After Richie left for a solo career, The Commodores won their first Grammy Award in 1986: Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for “Nightshift.”
8. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan recorded four gold and two platinum albums, including four number one albums, in the 1970s. The band hit the top of the Billboard R&B singles chart five times, including “Sweet Thing” (1975), “Do You Love What You Feel,” (1979) and “Ain’t Nobody” (1983) which won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Their first hit single, “Tell Me Something Good,” composed by Stevie Wonder, also won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Khan left the group for a solo career in 1978, however she reunited with the band for the 1983 album, Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live.
In 1974, Larry Blackmon formed the group New York City Players which became one of the greatest funk bands known as Cameo. From 1979-1988, the group recorded eight gold and one platinum albums. It also reached number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart four times, including two consecutive chart topping songs in 1987, “Word Up!” and “Candy.” In 1987 and 1988, Cameo won an American Music Award for Favorite Soul/R&B Band/Duo/Group, and two Soul Train Music Awards: Best R&B/Soul Single - Group, Band or Duo (“Word Up!”), and Best R&B/Soul Album - Group, Band or Duo (Word Up!)
10. The Ohio Players
The Ohio Players dominated the mid 1970s with four consecutive number one albums on the Billboard R&B chart (including three platinum) Skin Tight (1974), Fire (1974), Honey (1975), and Contradiction (1976). The band also recorded five chart topping singles, including “Funky Worm” (1973), “Sweet Sticky Thing” (1975), “Love Rollercoaster” (1975). In addition to their distinctive, funkified sound, The Ohio Players were famous for the most erotic album covers