Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson, the son of musicians John Lewis Nelson and Mattie Shaw. Prince was named after his father’s stage name—Prince Rogers—and the name of the Jazz Trio where Nelson played lead piano. Prince spoke on this in his memoir, writing, “There were 2 Princes in the house where we lived. The older one with all the responsibilities of heading a household & the younger one whose only modus operandi was fun.”
Early in life, Prince’s savant father would not allow him to touch the piano in their home. After Nelson and Shaw divorced, Prince finally found the courage to start teaching himself piano. It would take many years of practice for his father to consider him as a collaborator in music, though he would never think of his son as his equal.
Prince’s signature look and style were born out of childhood bullying. Prince suffered from epileptic seizures and was often taunted as a result. He revealed this fact to Tavis Smiley in a 2009 interview, saying, “Early in my career I tried to compensate by being as flashy and as noisy as I could.”
His career took off quickly. He signed with Warner Bros in 1978 and released four albums in four years. In 1984, he released his hallmark album, Purple Rain, alongside the movie of the same title. From there, he and his band, The Revolution, put out hits until they dissolved in 1986. By 1991, Prince was leading a new band, The New Power Generation, and putting out their album, “Diamonds and Pearls”.
In 1992, Prince signed what was the largest record deal of all time with Warner Bros, for $100 million and freedom of movement with film and television work.
In 1993, he and Warner Bros faced conflict regarding his contract. Still required to complete five albums for Warner Bros, Prince released them in two years, under a different moniker. His new title, pronounced “The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince”, was written as a combination of the male and female symbols. Prince retook his former name, after signing with Arista in 1998.
Prince’s life was not made of straightforward successes, however. Prince suffered from hip and knee pain, from his highkey performance style. Being a devout Jehovah’s Witness, Prince could not have blood transfusions, limiting surgical options. He began relying on prescription opioids to manage.
“He wasn’t doing drugs like a hedonistic rock star,” Touré, author of “Nothing Compares 2 U: An Oral History of Prince” wrote. “He was doing drugs like so many working-class Americans who need pills to get breaking-down bodies through the workday so they can show up for the people who rely on them.”
Prince died of an overdose of synthetic fentanyl in 2016. To this day, dozens of his unreleased albums, singles, and music videos remain in the “Prince Vault”, beside the 75 albums already released—22 of which, were certified platinum. He was undoubtedly one of the most prolific performers of our time.