Prince is dead.
And it isn’t until after someone leaves us that we truly appreciate their impact. The iconic artist — who passed away at his Paisley Park estate in suburban Minneapolis at the age of 57 — was known for his prolific songwriting and his unique style of music that transcended genres and defied labels. But Prince was also known for his sexuality, which — like his musical style — was uniquely Prince.
The singer, songwriter, producer and performer, born Prince Rogers Nelson, was able to transcend the limitations provided by traditional sexual categories. Prince refused to be boxed in. He was himself — his petite 5’2” self, with the booming deep voice or high-pitched falsetto. And he was a fashion statement, as much a fashion icon as a musical genius. With his flamboyant, androgynous persona, Prince was able to sport what he wanted and not only get away with it but work it. From ruffled blouses, velvet suits, panties and high heels, to sequins, metallic jumpsuits, scarves and black eyeliner, Prince was glittery and extravagant, and wore it well, even when he wasn’t wearing much of anything. And everyone loved him for it.
One fan captured it best on Instagram with an amazing quote whose source remains unclear:
And his clothing style was so trendsetting that it even inspired the costumes for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit “Hamilton.”
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) April 12, 2016
Known for the in-your-face, sexually-charged nature of many of his songs, Prince left his mark on the music industry in an unlikely way. As the story goes, when Tipper Gore bought the Prince album “Purple Rain” for her then-11-year-old daughter, she was shocked by the lyrics of his song, “Darling Nikki.” Gore tried to return the album, but the store reportedly would not accept the already opened item. This led to Gore co-founding the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which eventually resulted in Congressional hearings and negotiations with the music industry to place the label “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” on all albums containing explicit lyrics.
Race, sexuality and popular music have gone hand in hand in America. The way that politicians exploited Prince for his explicit lyrics reminds us of the way black musicians were attacked back in the day. In the 1950s, culturally conservative whites railed against black popular music, including jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie — also known as so-called “race music” or “jungle music” — for its sometime raunchy lyrics and suggestive dance styles. But in his own time, Prince pushed the envelope and took it to another level when it came to sexuality in his songs.
“My heart is heavy with the news of Prince’s passing,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) “To the people of Minnesota, Prince was a hero. He inspired countless others around the world with his art. Prince showed us it was okay to stand out. He showed us that the best way to be cool was to be yourself. Prince wasn’t merely a pop star – to many of us, he was much, much more. The world will be a little less bright without Prince in it.”
Prince, we will miss you in all your glorious, purple and paisley splendor.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove