Remembering the man who always behaved like a Prince

Beyond his musical prowess and hitmaking machine, Prince is remembered for his ability make political statements with a genteel touch.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/File
Prince presented the award for favorite album – soul/R&B at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Nov. 22, 2015. The pop star died Thursday at his Paisley Park home outside of Minneapolis.

As fans come to grips with the loss of Prince by dancing to his hits and offering tributes, others are remembering the musician and his skill at being a cultural firebrand – without singeing his public image.

While Prince seldom took a political stand outside the recording studio, his music lobbied for openness about sexuality, the Cold War, poverty, AIDS and, most recently, police brutality.

For example, Prince addressed the potential of thermonuclear war during the Reagan era with a megaton party anthem, "1999." He viewed all music contracts as forms of slavery, refused to sing on "We are the World," and once stated in an interview that he did not vote.

His loss is keenly felt among fans who appreciated getting those messages with a beat rather than seeing another celebrity stridently beating the drum for a political cause on social media and in interviews.

"It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence [Thursday] morning at the age of 57," the singer's publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, said in a statement. 

Police responding to a medical call at the Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota found the singer unresponsive in an elevator, Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson told media. Details surrounding the cause of death have not yet been announced.

"My generation of performers has lost the King, Michael Jackson, the Queen, Donna Summer and now we have lost our Prince," Felipe Rose, better known as the native American in the disco group The Village People, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "He was prolific, a master class that needs to be studied, both for his music and his ability to inspire."

Mr. Rose says that he recalls being on stage early on in his career, dancing at a club in Minneapolis, and spotting Prince in the VIP section "watching me dance, his hat tipped down."

"It was such a cool moment knowing you were in the same building with this man, this tiny man, who was such a giant," Rose adds. "Just go decade to decade and look at the statements he made. He took on the music industry. When he wrote 'SLAVE' on his face, I felt liberated, and I was not alone."

Prince took a rare moment to address politics outside his industry at the 2015 Grammy Awards, when he said, "Like books and black lives, albums still matter."

In May of 2015, he again broke from his long-time avoidance of making public political statements when he staged a "Rally 4 Peace" in Baltimore to honor Freddie Gray, who died while in police captivity.

Allegations of police brutality ensued after Mr. Gray, who was arrested on a weapons charge, suffered a severe spinal cord injury that led to his death seven days later.

Rose concludes, "The remarkable thing about Prince was that he was in the news all the time, but he was never in the news for the wrong thing. His loss is devastating."

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