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Prince Through the Years

Reflections on the first anniversary of his untimely death

  • Prince, Robert Whitman slidshow
    Robert Whitman

    Prince’s Eternal Purple Reign

    Throughout his influential career, Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) mesmerized fans by relentlessly reinventing his sound, often incorporating elements of funk, rock, R&B, jazz, blues and punk.

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  • Prince, Robert Whitman slidshow
    Robert Whitman

    The Promising Beginning

    Prince’s debut album, For You, dropped in the spring of 1978. Powered mainly by the subversive single “Soft and Wet,” it excited many in the music industry because it showcased a precocious 19-year-old who wrote, arranged and produced all the material except the lead single (cowritten by Chris Moon). Even more impressive, Prince played all 27 instruments on the album.

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  • Prince 1980
    Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The Dirty Game Changer

    Prince blasted into the 1980s with his first significant game changer, Dirty Mind, on which he brazenly challenged the established R&B world with an LP that contained songs about oral sex (“Head”) and incest (“Sister”). His androgynous attire and erotically charged concerts also suggested a sense of fluid sexuality.

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  • Prince 1999
    Warner Brothers

    Apocalypse Now!

    During Prince’s first five years as a solo artist, he was mostly an underground sensation in the pop world. Things changed with his first double LP, 1999, which contained the anti-nuclear-war title track and its follow-up, “Little Red Corvette.” The latter’s music video became one of the first by a black artist to be featured on MTV. 1999’s whimsical album artwork also made the first sly mention of his backup band, the Revolution. 

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  • Prince Rolling Stone
    Jonathan Larsen/Diadem Images/Alamy Stock Photo

    Purple Muse

    In April 1983, Prince made his first cover-story appearance in Rolling Stone magazine. Photographed with him was his main muse and girlfriend, Vanity, who fronted the salacious female trio Vanity 6. For a brief period, Prince and Vanity were one of the hottest couples in R&B and pop music. Coincidentally, she died in February 2016 at age 57.

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  • Prince Minneapolis First Avenue
    Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

    Minneapolis Laboratory

    While preparing music for his massively successful 1984 album and film, Purple Rain, Prince would test-drive some of the material before a live audience at First Avenue, a popular downtown music venue in his hometown of Minneapolis. The club was also featured heavily in the movie.  

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  • Purple Rain
    Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

    ‘Baby, I’m a Star’

    In June 1984, Prince — now officially accompanied by his band, the Revolution —  released his sixth album, Purple Rain, the soundtrack to a semi-autobiographical film released a month later. The album and movie have become classics with a string of hits including “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and the title track.

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  • Prince and the Revolution
    ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

    Prince’s Royal Badness!!

    The worldwide critical and commercial success of Purple Rain catapulted Prince to superstardom, earning him two Grammy awards and one Oscar for Best Original Song Score. The Revolution also become a trendsetter with its multiracial and multi-gender lineup.

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  • Prince
    Neal Preston/Corbis

    Parades, Cherry Moons and Hot Kisses

    Prince returned to the silver screen in 1986 with a black-and-white comedy Under the Cherry Moon. Written and directed by Prince, the film bombed at the box office. Its soundtrack, Parade, is nevertheless considered a masterpiece because of its sprawling stylistic structure and its funky lead single, “Kiss,” one of Prince’s best-known songs.

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    Hot Pants

    Always the provocateur, Prince shocked fans when he wiggled his bare assets at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards during a libidinous performance of his 1991 hit “Gett Off.”

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  • Prince Record Company Slave
    NBC NewsWire/Getty Images

    Another Game Change With a Name Change

    After a long relationship with Warner Bros., which distributed his boutique label Paisley Park, in the mid-1990s Prince engaged the record company in a heated battle over control of his master recordings and his image. He changed his name to the unpronounceable “Love Symbol” and began scrawling the word “slave” onto his right cheek in rebellion against the recording industry.

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  • Prince and Beyonce
    L. Cohen/Getty Images

    Another Major Comeback

    In spite of consistent releases of new music, Prince’s mainstream stardom dimmed through much of the late ’90s and early aughts, even after he returned to using his name Prince in 1999. But with the release of his 2004 disc Musicology, he was back on the charts with the title track and “Call My Name.” For a victory lap, he and Beyoncé opened the 2004 Grammy Awards show with a scintillating performance.

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  • Prince Super Bowl 2007
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Supreme Super Bowl Halftime Show

    Still riding high from the commercial and critical success of 2004’s Musicology and 2006’s 3121, Prince gave one of Super Bowl history’s most electrifying performances in Miami in 2007. Raindrops fell onto the field during Prince’s heartfelt rendition of “Purple Rain.”

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    Prince the Mentor

    While fronting the young women’s group 3rdeyegirl — Prince was always a champion for female musicians — he made a newsworthy return to Warner Bros. with the 2014 double release of Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum.

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  • Prince Baltimore Freddie Gray

    Prince and Politics

    Throughout his career and with his music, Prince made poignant sociopolitical statements, such as addressing the Cold War in “Ronnie Talk to Russia” and AIDS in “Sign o’ the Times.” After the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, he threw a benefit concert, “Rally 4 Peace,” at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena. He also released a related single, “Baltimore,” that contained the lyric: “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?”  

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  • Prince Passport Photo
    Prince/via Twitter

    Ageless Beauty

    Toward the end of his career, Prince returned to the basics in terms of his look by sporting a mushroomed Afro similar to one on his 1978 debut LP, For You. In February 2016, he tweeted this passport photo, which captured his seemingly ageless beauty.  

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