Prince (Nelson, Prince Rogers)

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Prince (Nelson, Prince Rogers)

c. June 7, 1958

Singer and composer Prince Rogers Nelson, who goes by the name Prince, is reluctant to divulge information about his early years. He was born to two jazz musicians in an interracial marriage and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He began playing music at a very young age, alternating among piano, keyboards, guitar, and drums. He formed his own band, Grand Central, while still in junior high school. Prince made his first demonstration record in 1976, playing all the parts himself. In 1978, after his manager subtracted several years from Prince's age and heralded him as "a new Stevie Wonder," Prince signed a contract with Warner Brothers and made For You. That album combined several African-American musical styles, taking the heavy bass of funk and mixing it with the dance beat of disco, while providing an overall feeling of rock in both arrangement and content. His second album, Prince (1979), was a great commercial success, producing the hit single "I Wanna Be Your Lover."

Prince, who adopted a visually androgynous persona in photos, public appearances, and performances, first received notoriety for sexually explicit lyrics on his third album, Dirty Mind (1980), which included songs about incest, oral sex, and a ménage-à-trois. His breakthrough album, 1999 (1982), included the hit songs "1999" and "Little Red Corvette," both of which featured a vocal style ranging from reedy falsetto to muscular baritone.

In 1984 Prince produced, wrote, scored, and starred in the film Purple Rain, whose soundtrack sold more than seventeen million copies and won an Oscar for best original music score, in addition to three Grammy Awards and three American Music Awards. After this, Prince continued to pursue film projects. His film Under the Cherry Moon (1987) failed to achieve wide popularity, but his soundtrack for Batman reached the top of the popular album charts in 1989. His film Graffiti Bridge (1992) achieved only moderate success.

Since 1987 Prince has recorded his own albums and produced music by others in his Paisley Park Studios, a Minneapolis production facility built with the assistance of Warner Brothers. In 1987 he also released Sign o' the Times, which combined the rhythms of funk with gospel and pop styles, but it failed to muster significant appeal. In 1992 he released an album whose title was a symbolic visual representation that he thereafter officially adopted as his unpronounceable name. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, as he came to be called, spent several years in a contract dispute with Warner Brothers. His last album with them, Chaos and Disorder, was released in 1996. Sales of his albums dwindled during the 1990s. In 1997 he released a triple CD, Emancipation, the first in his new deal with EMI. He reassumed the name Prince in 2000.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Prince worked with many prominent figures in popular music, including Chaka Khan, Sheena Easton, Stephanie Mills, the Bangles, Stevie Nicks, Sheila E., Patti LaBelle, and M. C. Hammer. He also collaborated with the gospel singer Mavis Staples, and worked several times with the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.

In 2004 Prince was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, his album Musicology was released by Columbia Records, and the artist embarked on a sold-out musical tour. Prince was awarded Grammy Awards in 2005 for best male R&B vocal performance for "Call My Name," and best traditional R&B vocal performance for "Musicology." In addition, the NAACP honored Prince with its Vanguard Award for work that "increases understanding and awareness of racial and social issues," and an Image Award for best album for Musicology.

See also Music in the United States


Hahn, Alex. Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince. New York: Billboard Books, 2003.

Norment, Lynn. "Prince Reclaims His Throne." Interview. Ebony 59, no. 11 (September 2004): 196200.

david henderson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Prince (Nelson, Prince Rogers)

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