/prins/, n.
1. Harold S., born 1928, U.S. stage director and producer.
2. a male given name.

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orig. Prince Rogers Nelson

born June 7, 1958, Minneapolis, Minn., U.S.

U.S. singer and songwriter.

The son of a jazz pianist, he taught himself several instruments and formed his own bands as a teenager. At age 19 he released his first album, on which he played all the instruments. His second album, Prince (1979), was followed by many others, including the best-selling 1999 (1982), the soundtrack of the film Purple Rain (1983), in which he also starred, and Diamonds and Pearls (1991). In 1993 he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and became known as "the artist formerly known as Prince," but in 2000 he resumed his previous name. In 2004 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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▪ 2005

      The resurgence in 2004 of the multitalented American recording artist known once again simply as Prince was a surprise not because he was back—he had never really gone away—but because he reemerged in such a big way. Sales of his recordings had dipped deeply at the end of the 1990s, and his name had literally disappeared (replaced by an unpronounceable glyph—his choice), but in 2004 Prince was a phenomenon again, riding high on his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the success of his best-selling, critically acclaimed album Musicology.

      Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis, Minn., on June 7, 1958, and named after the Prince Rogers Trio, a jazz combo led by his father. Following his parents' divorce, Prince lived intermittently with both, but he was eventually adopted by the family of a schoolboy bandmate. Prince mastered several instruments and while still a teenager signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers. He wrote and produced his own often-suggestive songs and arrived at a contagious mix of soul, rock, pop, and funk driven by his virtuoso guitar playing and impassioned (frequently falsetto) vocals. Performing live, Prince was magnetic and risqué as he led his band, the Revolution, through carefully choreographed funk workouts. After a series of releases, including Dirty Mind (1980) and Controversy (1981), Prince had a huge hit in 1982 with the double album 1999 (featuring “Little Red Corvette”). The sound track for Purple Rain (1984), the semiautobiographical film starring Prince, was an even bigger smash, partly on the wings of the singles “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U.” In the process, Prince joined Michael Jackson not only in breaking the colour barrier for African Americans on MTV but also in dominating (along with Madonna) popular music in the 1980s and early '90s.

      Although the hits continued—including the masterful Sign o' the Times (1987) and several songs written for other artists—Prince became increasingly frustrated with his contract with Warner Brothers, which owned his master recordings. In protest he changed his name in 1993 to a symbol (becoming the Artist Formerly Known as Prince) and began writing “slave” on his face for performances. Only after he was formally released from the contract in 1999 did he become Prince again; after putting out his final album for Warner Brothers in 1996, he began releasing music on his own label, New Power Generation, to mixed reviews and lacklustre sales. Prince's return to the limelight began with two dynamic live appearances—a duet with singer Beyoncé (q.v. (Beyonce )) at the 2004 Grammy Awards and a pair of incendiary performances at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies (including a much-remarked-upon guitar solo during the all-star jam on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”). It culminated with his Musicology tour, which included his new back-to-basics album in the ticket price.

Jeff Wallenfeldt

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▪ American singer, songwriter, musician, and producer
original name  Prince Rogers Nelson , formerly known as  the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,  the Artist,  and   
born June 7, 1958, Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

      singer, guitarist, songwriter, producer, dancer, and performer on keyboards, drums, and bass who was among the most talented American musicians of his generation. Like Stevie Wonder (Wonder, Stevie), he was a rare composer who could perform at a professional level on virtually all the instruments he required, and a considerable number of his recordings feature him in all the performing roles. Prince's recording career began with funk and soul (soul music) marketed to a black audience; his early music also reflected the contemporary musical impact of disco. Later records incorporated a vast array of influences, including jazz, punk, heavy metal, the Beatles (Beatles, the), and hip-hop, usually within an overall approach most informed by funky up-tempo styles and soulful ballads (pop ballad); the latter often featured his expressive falsetto singing.

      Taking an early interest in music, Prince began playing the piano at age 7 and mastered the guitar and drums by the time he joined his first band at age 14. With very few African American residents, his hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was an unlikely site for the development of a major black star, but Prince even managed to lead other local musicians, most notably Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, to major success.

      Mirrored by correspondingly intense music, Prince's lyrics often address sexuality and desire with frankness and imagination. Much of his work, in its lyrics and imagery, struggles with the constriction of social conventions and categories. As one of his biographers put it, “The whole thrust of Prince's art can be understood in terms of a desire to escape the social identities thrust upon him by simple virtue of his being small, black, and male.”

      Prince explored typographical oddities in his song titles and lyrics as another way of evading convention. In 1993 he announced that he had changed his name to a combination of the male and female gender signs—. There is also a strong religious impulse in some of his music, sometimes fused into a kind of sacred erotic experience that has roots in African American churches.

      "Little Red Corvette" (1983) was Prince's first big crossover hit, gaining airplay on at a time when virtually no black artists appeared on the influential new medium. Purple Rain (1984) made him one of the major stars of the 1980s and remains his biggest-selling album. Three of its singles were hits: the frenetic "Let's Go Crazy," the androgynous but vulnerable "When Doves Cry," and the anthemic title cut. Thereafter he continued to produce inventive music of broad appeal; outside the United States he was particularly popular in Britain and the rest of Europe.

      Throughout most of his career, Prince's prolific inventiveness as a songwriter clashed with his record company's policy of releasing only a single album each year. As a backlog of his completed but unreleased recordings piled up, he gave songs to other performers—some of whom recorded at and for Paisley Park, the studio and label he established in suburban Minneapolis—and even organized ostensibly independent groups, such as the Time, to record his material. His 1996 album Emancipation celebrated the forthcoming end of his Warner Brothers contract, which enabled him to release as much music as he liked on his NPG label. Later he explored marketing his work on the Internet and through private arrangements with retail chains as a means of circumventing the control of large record companies. In 1999, however, he released Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic under the Arista label; a collaboration with Sheryl Crow, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, and others, the album received mixed reviews and failed to find a large audience. Prince (who, following the formal termination of his contract with Warner Brothers in 1999, stopped using the symbol as his name) was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That year he also released Musicology, an album that both sold well and was much praised by critics.

Robert Walser Ed.

Representative Works

Prince (1979)
Dirty Mind (1980)
1999 (1982)
Purple Rain (1984)
Sign 'O' the Times (1987)
Diamonds and Pearls (1991)
Emancipation (1996)

Additional Reading
The most useful biography is Liz Jones, Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (1998). Jon Bream, Prince: Inside the Purple Reign (1984), is an insightful study by a critic from Minneapolis who observed Prince's rise firsthand. Two other books illuminate his work and impact during the 1980s: Dave Hill, Prince: A Pop Life (1989); and John W. Duffy, Prince: An Illustrated Biography (1992). Robert Walser, “Prince as Queer Poststructuralist,” Popular Music and Society, 18(2):79–89 (Summer 1994), is a more academic treatment of certain aspects of Prince's career.

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Universalium. 2010.

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