Prince: The life story you may not know

Published 10:30 pm Monday, March 27, 2023

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Prince: The life story you may not know

Looking back at Prince’s four-decade career, it’s clear that when he signed his record deal with Warner Bros. at just 18 years old that he was destined to lead an influential trajectory. From a young age, Prince Rogers Nelson, better known mononymously as Prince, was certain of his talents. And once he hit the stage, so was the rest of the world.

His commitment, liberation, and vision came through in his Minneapolis Sound—a genre blending a sonically experimental mix of funk, synth-pop, and wailing electronic guitar riffs—that positioned him to become one of music’s most respected and recognizable artists. Throughout his career, he would challenge how he presented himself to the world, whether that be with his androgynous style or his artistry that knew no bounds.

He was always striving for originality in his work. This was evident in his acting, writing, and production. His influence would go beyond music—the prolific musician and producer’s sharp-eyed outlook on life and creative independence would make him one of the most iconic visionary geniuses of his time. To recognize his achievements, Stacker compiled a list of 25 things about Prince’s life you may not know. To do so, we reviewed memoir accounts, newspaper articles, archives, and official documents.

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Aerial view, looking north, of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the 1950s.

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1958: Born in Minneapolis

Prince Rogers Nelson, better known mononymously as Prince, was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis. His father, John L. Nelson, was a jazz pianist in the Prince Rogers Trio, and his mother, Mattie Shaw, performed in the band as a singer. It was the band’s name that inspired Prince’s.

Prince performs live onstage at the Ritz Carlton in New York.

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1977: Signs to Warner Bros. for debut album

In 1977, Prince signed to Warner Bros. Records at 18 years old. The next year, Prince released his debut album, “For You.” He is credited with writing and performing everything himself. The album peaked at #163 on the Billboard 200. After a long public dispute and split in 1996, he would later re-sign with the label in 2014 and obtain ownership of his classic catalog.

Prince performs a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

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1983: Recording at First Avenue

In 1983, Prince and the Revolution recorded portions of the “Purple Rain” soundtrack live on stage at First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. The infamous recording occurred during a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre.

Prince performs onstage during the 1984 Purple Rain Tour at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

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1984: ‘Purple Rain’

In 1984, the film “Purple Rain,” directed by Albert Magnoli and based on the Prince and the Revolution album of the same name, became a box-office hit. Prince played a loosely based character of himself in the cult musical drama. He also worked with ​​costume designers Louis Wells and Marie France to create his iconic androgynous looks in the movie.

Prince with American singer Sheila E. on stage.

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1984: ‘The Glamorous Life’

Prince co-produced drummer and collaborator Sheila E.’s 1984 debut album, “The Glamorous Life.” The entire album was recorded in a week at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles.

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Prince and members of his group accept their Oscar for Best Original Song Score for "Purple Rain."

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1985: Oscar win

Prince’s hit song “Purple Rain” won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score at the 1985 ceremony, making him the first and last Black person to win the award. The category was retired the next year. In his Oscar speech, Prince told the audience: “This is very unbelievable. I could never imagine this in my wildest dreams.”

Prince's Paisley Park Studios just after completion in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

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1985: Paisley Park

In 1985, Prince commissioned architect Bret Thoeny to build Paisley Park—an artist compound located 22 miles outside of Minneapolis. In a 2016 interview, Thoeny told Billboard that the 55,000-square-foot creative complex was the first of its kind. It had two state-of-the-art recording studios, a 12,400-square-foot soundstage, a rehearsal room, a performance area, common areas, and offices.

Price in a scene from "Under the Cherry Moon."

Warner Bros.

1986: Forays into directing with ‘Under the Cherry Moon’

Prince made his directorial debut in 1986 with the musical dramedy “Under the Cherry Moon.” The film, starring Prince himself, featured some of the artist’s most celebrated songs, including “Sometimes It Snows in April” and “Kiss.”

Tim Burton on the set of his movie 'Batman Returns.'

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1989: ‘Batman’ soundtrack

By the late ’80s, Prince was already one of the most influential and successful pop artists of all time. He was also already in massive debt, according to Albert Magnoli, his manager at the time. When presented with the opportunity to produce the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s “Batman,” Magnoli convinced Prince it would make financial sense—and it did. The film grossed over $400 million at the box office.

Prince performs during the Nude Tour at the St. Paul Civic Center Arena.

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1990: ‘Purple Rain’ gets a sequel

Prince wrote, directed, and starred in “Graffiti Bridge,” the sequel to “Purple Rain.” The musical drama featured appearances by funk musician George Clinton and R&B singer Tevin Campbell.

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Prince performs on stage on August 9 1993 in Den Bosch.

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1993: ‘Billboards’ ballet

Prince wrote the music for the Joffrey Ballet’s “Billboards” in 1993. The show was a massive hit—and not just with the usual ballet crowd. According to The Washington Post, the show opened “new veins of creativity … choreographically, precisely because Prince’s music brings new orders of rhythm, sonority, sensuality, and psychology within reach of ballet’s horizons.” Because of Prince’s musical contribution, the company, which was close to shutting down, got a second chance.

Prince posing near a poster promoting his live performance.

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1993: Changing his name

In retaliation to his name and music being owned by Warner Bros., Prince changed his name ​​to an unpronounceable glyph in 1993. He would perform with the word “slave” written on his face, another act of protest in his quest to free himself of his contract.

Mayte Garcia and Prince perform onstage on The Ultimate Live Experience tour.

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1996: Death of his infant son

Prince married backup singer and dancer Mayte Garcia in 1996. The couple had a son, Amiir Nelson, who died six days after birth due to a rare genetic disorder, Pfeiffer syndrome type 2. The couple tried to conceive again but suffered a miscarriage. In 1998, Prince announced a planned annulment of his marriage to Garcia via press conference.

Prince with Mayte Garcia onstage.

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1996: His music and arts philanthropy

Prince and former wife, Mayte Garcia, founded Love 4 One Another in 1996 to encourage the presence of music in the lives of children. The organization still exists today, servicing, retaining, and reviving music and arts programs in schools.

Prince poses during his "Emancipation" album release party.

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1996: Unleashes 19th album, ‘Emancipation’

In 1996, Prince released his 19th studio album, “Emancipation.” The three-disc album is what Prince described as “what freedom sounds like,” in an interview with USA Today—symbolizing his freedom from Warner Bros. Records.

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Chris Rock poses for a portrait in the Gary Panter Playroom.

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1997: Rare interview with Chris Rock

In 1997, comedian Chris Rock sat down for an interview with Prince for MTV. Prince gave a rare intimate conversation on influences as well as personal and controversial topics, such as his androgynous style, his relationships with women, and even potential musical rivalries.

Prince and Manuela Testolini sit in the audience at the 35th Annual NAACP Image Awards.

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2001: Marries Manuela Testolini

Prince married Manuela Testolini in 2001. The couple lived in Toronto until they divorced in 2006. During his time in Toronto, Prince recorded his 2004 album “Musicology.”

Prince holding Maceo Parker's alto saxophone in concert at Apollo Theater.

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2001: Becoming Jehovah’s Witness

Raised Seventh-day Adventist, Prince transitioned to the faith of Jehovah’s Witness in 2001. In a 2008 interview with the New Yorker, Prince said he didn’t see his switch as a conversion but rather as a realization. Religious motifs would play out in his music.

Dhani Harrison and Prince during the 19th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

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2004: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The musician was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Prince was introduced by Alicia Keys and Big Boi and André 3000 of OutKast. He performed fan favorites “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Kiss.”

Prince and Beyonce perform onstage.

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2004: Performing with Beyonce

In 2004, Prince and Beyoncé opened up the 46th Annual Grammy Awards performing a medley of hits. It was an unforgettable performance that sizzled with the duo’s showmanship. Along the way, Prince showed Queen Bey a few chords on the piano, which apparently inspired a renewed appreciation for piano. She soon showcased her skills in a rare video of her on the ivories performing “Die With You.”

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Prince performs during the Super Bowl XLI halftime show sponsored by Pepsi.

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2007: Super Bowl XLI halftime show

Prince was the headliner for the 2007 Super Bowl XLI halftime show. Despite a storm that rolled in that day, it’s said that Prince put on one of the greatest halftime shows ever and garnered an estimated 140 million viewers on television. He ended the performance with “Purple Rain.”

Prince announces his '21 Nights in London' gigs at a press conference.

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2008: Publishes first book

Prince released his first published book, “21 Nights,” in 2008. A photo essay following Prince’s sold-out 21 concerts in 21 nights at London’s O2 Arena in 2007, it features photography by photographer Randee St. Nicholas alongside Prince’s poetry and new lyrics.

Prince headlines the main stage on the last day of Hop Farm Festival.

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2011: Library of Congress National Recording Registry induction

The multi-platinum soundtrack “Purple Rain” was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2011. The album delivered a sonically experimental mix of synth-pop, funk, and electronic guitar riffs—that would become a bedrock of Prince’s iconic “Minneapolis Sound.”

Photos of Prince on the wall outside of the First Avenue nightclub where fans created a memorial.

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2016: Unexpected death

In 2016, Prince was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home. The singer’s death resulted from Prince ingesting what he probably thought was Vicodin; it was actually a counterfeit painkiller laced with fentanyl. This led to his death at 57 years old. Prince’s remains were cremated.

Prince performs onstage during the American Idol Season 5 Finale.

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2022: ‘Camille,’ the unreleased album

An unreleased album, called “Camille,” became the topic of conversation by Prince fans after his death. Camille, a feminine-presenting vocal style created by Prince with the help of some studio processing of his voice, turned out to be more than a rumor. In 2022, musician Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records, confirmed they had the unreleased 1986 Prince album as well as permission to release it. As of this writing, no further release dates have been announced.

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