He was a prodigy, a provocateur and a complete game-changer in popular music. It would be difficult to imagine, in fact, what pop and R&B would sound like today had Prince, who died on Thursday at 57, had never recorded or performed.
Like all great artists, Prince was himself a synthesizer of influences; his ranged from Sly Stone to Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell. The music he produced as a result — as a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist — defied genre, blending a mastery of pop hooks and funk grooves on singles that could be as lush as Purple Rain, as muscular and rocking as Let's Go Crazy and as ferociously bracing as When Doves Cry — and that was just on one album, 1984's commercial behemoth Purple Rain.
The Minnesota native — who kept living and working in Minneapolis, at his Paisley Park Studios —released his first album, For You, at 19. From the start, his songs were as notable for their flouting of sexual taboos as they were for their crackling musicality, as subsequent titles such as Dirty Mind and Controversy suggested. 1983's 1999 — his first album to feature The Revolution, one of several outfits he would lead — offered the sly Let's Pretend We're Married and the charging, metaphor-driven Little Red Corvette. Not long after that, the Parents Music Resource Center (co-founded) cited Darling Nikki, from Purple Rain, in objections to content that eventually led to the use of parental-advisory labels.
A film accompanying Purple Rain, and sharing its title, introduced Prince as an actor and multi-media superstar. 1986's Under the Cherry Moon proved less of a hit on screen, though its soundtrack, the album Parade, produced a chart-topping smash in the oft-sampled Kiss. 1987's Sign O' The Times, released as a solo album, marked a critical high point and yielded a few popular singles, including U Got The Look, which paired him with Sheena Easton.
Prince collaborated with and championed female artists throughout his career, among them singer/percussionist Sheila E. and the Revolution's Susanna and Wendy Melvoin (who also contributed to Times).
In the wake of Black Lives Matter, Prince channeled social consciousness into his music, with the sense of joy and inclusiveness that had always distinguished his work. His 2015 song Baltimore responded to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody with just those qualities.
Prince's productivity never waned; last year he released Hit N Run as two albums, asPhase One and Phase Two, and he had recently announced he was working on a book tracing his life and career.
Well, today will be a tribute to Prince day. Share your favorite Prince song
By Elysa Gardner