Thursday, October 19, 2017

Pop Life

Prince touched millions of people worldwide. The outpouring of emotion that has followed his passing is a testament to his otherworldly talent, and deep connection to those who appreciated it.

BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD

It was not what anyone expected to hear.

When the news of Prince’s death began swirling on the morning of April 21, the default reaction was utter disbelief. There had been reports about a mystery illness a few days earlier — but public appearances indicated that, outside of a possible flu, all was well with the pop legend.

The 57-year-old’s unexpected passing caused shockwaves of mourning throughout the world. President Obama sent a heartfelt a tribute from the White House. Buildings around the world lit up in purple. Thousands gathered at his Paisley Park compound outside Minneapolis — processing their grief through proximity to the scene of a legend’s final moments.

He entered our imagination as a brash, barrier-bending young man — enchanting audiences with a fusion of sexuality and spirituality. He left it as an elder pop statesman — Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, holder of seven Grammys, and owner of a legacy unmatched in modern music history.

Prince made a tremendous impact on the world through his music. For black people in particular, his art and aura were life-affirming — and his courage and integrity were inspiring. After all, this was a man who once wrote “Slave” on the side of his face, during a dispute with his record label, to underline a point about the exploitation of artists.

And his classic songs? As unforgettable today as they were inescapable during their time on the Billboard charts: “Purple Rain.” “When Doves Cry.” “Kiss.” “Let’s Go Crazy.” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” “Little Red Corvette.” “Pop Life.” “I Would Die 4 U.” “1999.” “Controversy.” “Raspberry Beret.” These are more than singles; collectively, they represent musical revolution.

His final performances spoke to his essence as an artist — alone at a piano or hosting a dance party, delighting an intimate audience. On April 16, Prince acknowledged his health challenges and seemed to foreshadow his own passing: “Wait a few days,” he told fans, “before you waste any prayers.”

As for moments, Prince never wasted any. His quiet commitment to social justice was shown in the benefit concerts he held in Baltimore after the police killing of Freddie Gray, and his financial support of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Whether on the concert stage or at a protest march, Prince sensed that his contributions would someday give him a form of immortality.

“I believe that there is an after world,” he once said, “and one day I will see it.”

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