Prince: The Childhood Years and Early Music Career
Prince was brought into this world on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents were both musicians. His mother, named Mattie Della, was a jazz vocalist. His father was a pianist and songwriter. His name was John Lewis Nelson, but went by the name Prince Rogers when performing. Prince was named after his fathers stage name and his full name at birth was Prince Rodgers Nelson. However, during his childhood, he went my the nickname "Skipper."
Prince Roger Nelson, or "Skipper," had a very typical childhood. In high school, "Skipper" was athletic, and played football, basketball, and baseball at Central High School in Minneapolis. However, he was much more talented as a musician than an athlete. Both him and his sister, Tika Evene Nelson, who was born 2 years after Prince in 1960, were pushed by their father to pursue music. With both parents being musicians, Prince and Tyka showed tremendous promise in music during their youth. In fact, Prince wrote his first piece of music at the age of seven entitled "Funk Machine." He also gained attention from R&B record producer Jimmy Jam when he was attending Bryant Junior High School. And, by the age of 17, with the help of a demo tape and an ad agency, Prince was signed to one of the biggest recording label of all time, Warner Brothers.
With his new recording contract from Warner Brothers Records, Prince released his first album entitled For You. The album was released in 1978, Prince was 20 years old. The album consisted of eight original compositions and a ninth track that was a collaboration with Chris Moon entitled "Soft and Wet." Moon produced Prince's demo which eventually landed him his recording contract with Warner Brothers Records. It only seemed fitting for Moon to have his hand in Prince's first recording project with Warner Brothers. The album For You was performed entirely by Prince, who arranging and performing 27 different instrumental parts. Some of these instruments included guitar, bass, drums, bongos, congas, and an array of synthesized sounds. For a first album at the age of 20 years old, Prince's For You did not sell very well, but tracks such as "Soft and Wet" and "Just as Long as We're Together" charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
Prince did not have a band and could not publicly perform these newly released tunes to live audiences. So, the following year, Prince formed a band that included a childhood neighbor Andre Anderson, who was later know as Andre Cymone and released a number of successful albums in the 80's. The rest of Prince's band was comprised of Los Angeles musicians who Prince met once moving to LA in the late 1970's. Things seemed to be aligning for the soon-to-be Pop icon, and in 1979 Prince released his second album that was self entitled. The album Prince went platinum with singles such as "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I wanna Be Your Lover." The latter sold over a million copies.
From 1980 to 82, Prince released three albums. The first entitled Dirty Mind had hits such as "Uptown" which charted in the top 5 of the Billboard Dance singles. "Uptown" was named after Prince's home studio in Minneapolis. This album also contained sexually explicit lyrics on tracks like "Head" and "Sister." Over the next five years, Prince would continue to use explicit lyrics which would lead to Parental Advisory warning stickers displayed on albums.
Even with it's raunchy lyrics and subject matter, Dirty Mind melded many different styles together, something Prince had been striving for since signing with Warner Brothers. It had a New Wave sound mixed with funk and R&B. Rolling Stones magazine describes the sound as "utterly new - so stripped down it almost seemed like dub reggae, a music of subtraction." The album also introduced an image of Prince that crossed racial and gender boundaries, something that would become more apparent in pop culture during the next decade with artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna.
In 1981, Prince released Controversy. This release led to large performance opportunities such as being the opening band for the Rolling Stones. However, this would be one of the only times Prince opened for any other artist. This album is also is the first time where we see Prince take liberties with abbreviations on track names and liner notes with tracks such as "Jack U Off", a style of typography that he will continue throughout his career. During this year, Prince also started a side project that was called The Time. This band would record throughout the next decade and featured lead vocalist Morris Day. This side project allowed Prince to continue composing music in the style of his earlier albums, freeing him to explore new musical styles and incorporate them in his own music. This side project also allowed him to produce other artist for Warner Brothers, such as Morris Day. In 1981, Prince also assembled and produced female vocal trio Vanity 6. In fact, these projects gave Prince the opportunity to eventually headline shows, by having his side projects open for him.
In 1982, Prince released 1999 a double albums that was met with huge success selling over three million copies! The track "1999" brought Prince international recognition. It's about the apocalyspe and is one of the few tracks that hint at Prince's religious Seventh-Day Adventist upbring. The early 1980's was also the beginning of MTV and the music video industry. Prince made a music video for his composition "Little Red Corvette" that was one of two videos made by black artists that got played on MTV frequently during this time. The other was Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." The album 1999 also led to Prince's first Grammy nomination with the track "International Lover."
Prince's prolific period, called the Golden Years by music journalists, culminated in 1984. Leading up to this date, Prince started a new band called The Revolution. Unlike previous bands formed by Prince, The Revolution had a more collaborative role, where members contributed musical ideas of their own without the direction of Prince. The band was a mix-gender, mix-race band that could play in all the styles that influenced Prince, styles from such bands as Fleetwood Mac and Sly and the Family Stone. In 1984, Prince approached Warner Brothers about creating a film, entitled Purple Rain. Surprisingly, the record label agreed to helping finance the movie and enlisted director Albert Magnoli for the project. Magnoli spent a month getting to know Prince and his history. According to Rolling Stones Magazine, Magnoli re-wrote the script several times and settled on a storyline that "focused on the musical rivalry between The Revolution and The Time, and the domestic drama that Prince's character, the kid, endured at home." The film was a loose interpretation of Prince's life. Prince wrote the soundtrack to the film that was released as Prince's sixth studio album by Warner Brothers. Both the film and the soundtrack were extremely successful! The film grossed over $68 million. The album eventually sold over 10 million copies, and was charted at number one for over 24 weeks. The baseless track "When Doves Cry" also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. This film led Prince to receiving an Academy Award in the category Best Original Song Score and two Grammy Awards in Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. Prince and The Revolution went on tour the November of 1984. Purple Rain was by far Prince's most successful album up to this point and brought a mega stardom status to Prince's name. However, to remain successful, Prince would need to reinvent himself multiple times throughout the course of his career.