Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016) was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, actor, and director. Regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation, and guitar virtuoso, he worked across multiple genres performing in a flamboyant and androgynous persona, with a wide vocal range which included a far-reaching falsetto and high-pitched screams.
Prince’s music integrated a wide variety of styles, including funk, R&B, Latin, rock, new wave, classical, soul, synth-pop, psychedelia, pop, jazz, and hip hop. He pioneered the Minneapolis sound, a funk rock subgenre that emerged in the late 1970s. He was also known for his prolific output, releasing 39 albums during his life, with a vast array of unreleased projects left in a vault at his home after his death; it is believed that the vault contains dozens of fully produced albums and over 50 music videos that have never been released, along with various other media. He released hundreds of songs both under his own name and multiple pseudonyms during his life, as well as writing songs that were made famous by other musicians, such as “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Manic Monday“. Estimates of the complete number of songs written by Prince range anywhere from 500 to well over 1,000.
Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records at the age of 19. Prince went on to achieve critical success with the innovative albums Dirty Mind (1980), Controversy (1981), and 1999 (1982). His sixth album, Purple Rain (1984), was recorded with his backup band the Revolution, and was the soundtrack to his film acting debut of the same name. Purple Rain spent six consecutive months atop the Billboard 200. Prince won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. After disbanding the Revolution, Prince went on to achieve continued critical success with Sign o’ the Times (1987). In the midst of a contractual dispute with Warner Bros in 1993, he changed his stage name to the unpronounceable symbol (known to fans as the “Love Symbol”), and was sometimes referred to as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or TAFKAP, or simply the Artist. He signed with Arista Records in 1998 and began referring to himself by his own name again in 2000. After returning to mainstream prominence following a performance at the Grammy Awards ceremony in 2004, he scored six US top ten albums over the following decade. Joni Mitchell said of Prince, “He’s driven like an artist. His motivations are growth and experimentation as opposed to formula and hits.”
In mid-life, Prince reportedly experienced considerable pain from injuries to his body (mainly hips) sustained through his dynamic stage performances (which included leaping off speaker stacks in high heels), and was sometimes seen using a cane. In April 2016, at the age of 57, Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at his Paisley Park home and recording studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Prince sold over 150 million records worldwide, ranking him among the best-selling music artists of all time. His awards included the Grammy President’s Merit Award, the American Music Awards for Achievement and of Merit, the Billboard Icon Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2016.