“Life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.” —Prince, 1999
For close to 40 years, Prince graced the world stage and invited the masses to enter his creative and unforgettable world of music. Check out these incredibly funky facts about the Purple One.
24. Renaissance Man
Prince was not just a rockstar on the guitar; his love for music pushed him to learn a whopping 27 instruments. At least. On his debut album For You, he played every single instrument on the project. The liner notes of the album state that, besides vocals, Prince played “electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, bass synth, singing bass, Fuzz bass, electric piano, acoustic piano, mini-Moog, poly-Moog, Arp string ensemble, Arp Pro Soloist, Oberheim four-voice, clavinet, drums, syndrums, water drums, slapsticks, bongos, congas, finger cymbals, wind chimes, orchestral bells, woodblocks, brush trap, tree bell, hand claps and finger snaps.” Phew.
In 1983, a rare few were treated to a special moment. During a James Brown concert, Michael Jackson was in attendance and briefly performed for his musical mentor. Shortly after, Jackson encouraged Brown to let Prince take the stage for what would be an otherworldly showing.
22. Biggest Fan
Prince was an avid Joni Mitchell fan. As a teenager, he attended her concerts and wrote her fan mail. Mitchell remembers getting letters in the singer’s odd “Prince-speak” of “U”s and hearts. Her team thought the letters were from a fringe fan and tossed them out. Excuse us while we go dumpster drive.
21. Ball Skills
In high school, Prince played football, basketball, and baseball. Although he was short (a trim 5’2″), his basketball coach described him as an excellent player. Nonetheless, to Prince’s chagrin, he wasn’t a starter. His coach remembers, “I knew he wanted to be starting and felt he should be starting. He was unhappy and he expressed that many, many times.” He always did have self belief.
20. The Midwest Got a Taste of Purple
MTV ran a contest for one lucky fan to win the chance for the new Prince film to premiere in their town—with Prince as their date! A local teenage girl in Wyoming won the honor, and in 1986, instead of the usual lavish Los Angeles movie premiere, Prince’s Under the Cherry Moon made its world debut in Wyoming.
19. A Renovation of Epic Proportions
In the late 2000s, Chicago Bulls Forward Carlos Boozer rented his Beverly Hills Mansion to Prince. The rockstar took it upon himself to put his iconic symbol on the front gate, change the master bedroom into a hair salon, and knock out a few walls for additional renovations. Needless to say, Boozer was a bit alarmed about the changes. He needn’t have been: Prince, ever the gentleman, struck up a deal with Boozer to re-do the house after the Purple One moved out.
18. Rainbow Roller Skates?
Questlove, the famed drummer of The Roots, recounted a story of once being invited to a skating rink party hosted by Prince. Once the man of the hour arrived, he pulled out a black briefcase holding clear roller skates. As Prince sailed around the rink, the skates lit up and left behind electric rainbow-colored streaks. Now that’s how you do a roller skating party.
17. Last Snap
Prince was not afraid of mingling among the public in his hometown of Minneapolis. It was not uncommon for residents in and around the city to see him taking a leisurely bike ride through parking lots and on local roads. In fact, one of the last times he was recognized by the public was on a bike.
16. Covering His Bases
When Prince developed the sound for the song “Purple Rain,” he had concerns that it sounded similar to Journey’s “Faithfully.” To get the stamp of approval from the band, Prince reached out to Jonathan Cain, the composer of the song in question. Cain not only had no issue with the similarities, he was also blown away by the song and knew it was going to be a hit.
15. Natural Talent
During his 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Performance, Prince took the stage with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lyne, and Dhani Harrison (George’s Harrison’s son) to pay tribute to the late George Harrison. They all joined into a powerful rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and Prince delivered an incredible solo. Amazingly enough, Prince claimed that he had never heard the song until it was sent to him for the show.
Despite their impromptu performance in 1983, Prince and Michael Jackson were touted as rivals throughout the 80s and early 90s. Hilariously enough, their feelings toward each other once came to a head in a heated ping pong game (or as heated as ping pong gets). Jackson became fed up with the game and left the room while Prince gloated in the background. “Did you see that?” Prince said, “He played like Helen Keller.”
13. A True Fan of Old School
Prince was a product of a different time, and he embraced it. He enjoyed the rich sound of vinyl records, and it was not unusual to see him spending time in Minneapolis’ famous local record store the Electric Fetus. He was particularly known to support the establishment on Record Store Day.
12. Doing What With a Magazine?!
Prince’s Purple Rain was responsible for the Parental Advisory label. Tipper Gore, wife of then-Senator Al Gore, bought Purple Rain for her 11-year-old daughter. While listening, she heard the controversial and explicit lyrics of “Darling Nikki.” Embarrassed and angered that she was not aware of the content, Tipper lobbied for advisories to be placed on albums that included harsh language.
11. 1984 Was His Year
The various aspects of Purple Rain were a smashing success: In 1984, Prince had a film, single, and album all at number one, thanks in part to his mega hit “When Doves Cry.”
10. “Dark and Immortal”
In 1987, Prince’s The Black Album was slated to hit music stores everywhere. A few days before the album was scheduled to be released, Prince demanded the project be shelved. He stated that he had had a spiritual awakening about the record, and called it “dark and immortal.” As a result, he halted development.
9. “Sexiest Vegetarian”
Prince was always vocal about his commitment to a vegan lifestyle. As a result, PETA included him in their poll for the “Sexiest Vegetarian of 2006.” Unsurprisingly, His Royal Badness took the title and proved once and for all that a meatless diet can be sexy.
8. Prince and the Queen of Pop
Prince and Madonna performed together on the track “Love Song” on Like A Prayer, and he also contributed that distorted guitar solo in the first three seconds of “Like a Prayer” before the door slam.
7. Humble Beginnings
Prince fell on hard times while working to reach stardom in Minneapolis. In fact, he experienced financial hardship so great that he could not even afford to buy food. To quell the hunger, he recounted moments where he would stand outside McDonalds just get a whiff of the food.
6. It Runs in the Family
Prince came from a very musical family. His father, John Nelson, shared Prince’s love for music and was in the band the Prince Rogers Jazz Trio. The name of the group was an inspiration for the star’s name; Prince’s full name is Prince Rogers Nelson.
5. Albums for Nothing
In 2007, Prince cut a deal with British tabloid The Mail to include his new album Planet Earth in their newspapers as a freebie. The album, which was never even sold in stores in the UK, went out to over 3 million people. People were delighted—record companies less so.
4. A Hasty Farewell Letter
In the 1990s, Prince was no longer fond of his business relationship with Warner Bros. In protest, he (after declaring his old self dead) changed his name to a symbol and wrote “Slave” on his face. In addition to these actions, and in order to full his six-album contract with the company, Prince released the album Chaos and Disorder, which included a collection of hastily written songs meant to rebuke the record label.
After starting his career with his first album in 1978, Prince finished with 39 studio albums. In comparison, Bob Dylan, another native son of Minnesota, has released 37 albums since his debut in 1962.
2. Purple Monday
The Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday” was written by Prince, although it was initially meant for his protégé group Apollonia 6. “Manic Monday” shot to #2 on the 1986 Billboard Charts. Ironically, the one song preventing it from going to the top spot was Prince’s own hit “Kiss.”
1. A Century of Prince
For decades, friends, collaborators, and Prince himself discussed the existence of a vault that housed thousands of the singer’s unreleased songs. After his death, Bremer Trust, the designated administrators of his estate, opened the vault to assess the value of the music inside. They found enough music to release an album of new music every year for the next century.