'His Purpleness' is about to get a new title

The University of Minnesota will award music legend and proud Minnesotan Prince an honorary degree for his contributions to music and society. 

Olivia Harris/Reuters
Prince performs at the 2011 Hop Farm Festival near Paddock Wood, southern England. The University of Minnesota voted on Friday to award the late artist with an honorary degree.

The late music legend Prince, referred to affectionately by his entourage and fans as "His Purpleness," will posthumously get a new title: Doctor.

The University of Minnesota voted Friday to award Prince an honorary doctorate from the College of Liberal Arts. The singer, songwriter, and musician, who died in April in his home in Chanhassen, Minn., was born and raised in the state.

The degree will honor the full legacy of Prince, who was more than just a Grammy- and Academy Award–winning artist, but also an instigator of change, both in the industry and in larger society. In part, he accomplished this through lyrics that took on nuclear fallout, AIDS, poverty, and sexuality. But he also left his mark through the choices he made and stances that he took as an artist in the public eye.

The University of Minnesota was in the process of awarding the degree to Prince even prior to the artist's death, according to university president Eric Kaler. In a statement, Dr. Kaler said the school awards honorary degrees to individuals who have "achieved acknowledged eminence in cultural affairs, in public service, or in a field of knowledge and scholarship." He said that Prince's contributions to each of those categories are celebrated by people across the globe.

One such legacy is Prince's capacity for breaking down the racial and gender barriers that pervaded pop music, as Maud Dillingham of The Christian Science Monitor wrote following his death on April 21:

Yet Prince intentionally defied categorization. His band was racially integrated from the start – a relatively uncommon phenomenon. Along with Michael Jackson, with whom he had a spirited rivalry, Prince brought racial diversity to MTV’s emerging format of music videos. Pop music became less stratified along racial lines as a result. He also championed female musicians in key roles (such as virtuosic percussionist Sheila E.), which went against the grain of an industry justifiably regarded as sexist.

His enthusiastic support of female musicians did not make Prince a saint: He played up their sex appeal, and not a few were romantically linked to him, following a paradigm long entrenched in the pop music patriarchy. But just seeing Wendy Melvoin rock out on guitar in “Purple Rain” felt like a revolutionary act, inspiring girls everywhere.

Inspiration and empowerment were things that Prince was known to spark in his fans and other musicians.

"He took on the music industry. When he wrote 'SLAVE' on his face, I felt liberated, and I was not alone," Felipe Rose of the band, The Village People, told the Monitor's Lisa Suhay, referring to Prince's longtime battle against what he perceived to be the music industry's exploitation of artists. 

At the 2015 Grammy awards, Prince reminded the audience and viewers of the cultural significance of music when he said, "Like books and black lives, albums still matter."

That same year the artist, who typically did not make public political statements, organized a "Rally 4 Peace" in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died in the back of a police van. 

And while Prince was a worldwide sensation and inspiration, he was also a product of his home state.

"He said Minneapolis raised him ... [moving] will never happen," the artist's friend, bassist Nik West, told Fox News in April. "He would say, 'I'm never leaving ... there's a legacy here for me.' He was just all about just being who he was – being at home."

The University of Minnesota's announcement comes just a few days after Minnesota governor Mark Dayton officially declared the artist's birthday, June 7, "Prince Day" in the state.

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