Prince: Why he still reigns, even in death

AJC Sepia Black History Month

At Paisley Park in Minnesota last April, on the eve of the anniversary of his death, Prince was still present.

On a massive screen inside the soundstage the artist frequently used for performances, a clip from a 2014 concert he performed there with his band, 3rdeyegirl, showed Prince onstage telling the crowd, “At Paisley Park, we sing together, we dine together, we love together.”

That message of universal love was one that the eccentric, yet wildly creative, musician perpetuated throughout his life — a life that ended abruptly on April 21, 2016, a week after playing his last public concerts at the Fox Theatre.

Prince died of an accidental opioid overdose at the age of 57.

Throughout his extraordinary career, which began in his Minneapolis hometown when he signed his first record contract with Warner Bros. at the age of 17 and released his debut, “For You,” in 1978, he maintained a chameleonic allure.

He teased (“I Wanna Be Your Lover”), provoked (“Darling Nikki”), soared (“Purple Rain”) and kept fans on the dance floor for decades (“1999,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Raspberry Beret”).

MORE: Read the AJC’s full Black History Month series

Prince and Michael Jackson were the first two black artists whose videos MTV reluctantly agreed to play, with “Little Red Corvette” joining Jackson’s “Billie Jean” for that footnote.

Prince was known to rotate backing musicians as his ceaseless desire to make music that zigzagged among funk, rock, pop, R&B and even some jazz percolated.

Three bands became synonymous with him at various stages of his career: the Revolution, New Power Generation and 3rdeyegirl.

Of them, the Revolution, which shared the klieg lights of Prince’s “Purple Rain” reign, remains the most prominent.

Following Prince’s death, the original group — keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink, drummer Bobby Z., bassist Mark “Brownmark” Brown, keyboardist Lisa Coleman and guitarist Wendy Melvoin — reunited for a series of concerts to honor their deceased leader.

They’re back on the road this year and will perform at the Tabernacle on Saturday.

Brown recently chatted with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and referred to Prince as “our liberator.”

“He liberated black people,” Brown said. “Prince broke so many barriers. He broke walls down. There were other people who did it, going back to Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, but not like Prince.”

The last official release from Prince was “Hit n Run Phase Two,” his 39th studio album, which initially arrived via streaming services a few months before his death.

Prince’s Fox performances were part of his “Piano & a Microphone” tour, which featured him alone at a baby grand piano, with only a few clusters of candles sharing the stage and a massive video screen projecting kaleidoscopic swirls behind him.

“He was one of a kind,” Brown said of his former boss. “You’re not going to see another Prince or Michael Jackson in our lifetime. It’s just not going to happen.”

»MORE: Listen below to AJC Sepia’s Spotify Playlist of deep Prince album cuts

Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday, and in the Metro section on Fridays and Sundays. Go to for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.

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