Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis on June 7, 1958, the musician became a superstar after the release in 1982 of his album 1999. But it is his iconic release Purple Rain, which came out in 1984, for which he’s probably best known. Still, as the Rock and Roll of Fame says in its biography of Prince, “the artist’s deep discography is full of funky treasure.”
Writing in The Atlantic in 2013, Elias Wright pointed out the unlikely origins of perhaps the most influential musician of his generation.
When Prince released his third album, Dirty Mind, in 1980, most people outside of Minneapolis probably did not predict the purple domination to come. A lot of the magic was right there in that album, though. It’s approximately 29 minutes of layered falsetto vocals, neck-breaking guitar licks, bursts of bass, and pounding synthesizers, all illustrating an ability to smash musical genres into one and create undeniable melodies.
But over the next decade, Prince became the face of an entire swathe of sound emanating from Minneapolis, containing numerous other funky acts, many of whom were connected with him in some way: The Time, Alexander O’Neal, Sheila E, Cherrelle, Vanity 6.
The seven-time Grammy winner sold more than 100 million albums in his lifetime, and won an Oscar in 1985 for Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain. Prince was also famously a workaholic and music-obsessive who produced nearly 40 studio albums and dozens of other recordings.
“There’s not a person around who can stay awake as long as I can,” he said in an interview in 1985. “Music is what keeps me awake.”
In 1993, he changed his name from Prince to a symbol, fusing the signs of male and female. It was during this period he came to be referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” He reverted to his stage name, Prince, in 2000.
“I follow what God tells me to do,” Prince said, according the Hall of Fame. “It said, ‘Change your name,’ and I changed my name to a symbol ready for Internet use before I knew anything about the Internet.”
The legendary musician was also known for his live performances, including during a downpour at Super Bowl XLI, considered one of the great halftime concerts of all time. You can watch that here:
Here’s a roundup of the significant moments from his career.
John Covach, a rock historian from University of Rochester Institute for Popular Music, in a statement called Prince “one of the most important artists in American popular music during the last two decades of the twentieth century.”
“As a performer, he challenged the limits of sexuality, in many ways paralleling Madonna’s musical exploration of suggestive behaviors and taboo topics during the 1980s,” Covach said. “He will be remembered as one of most significant artists in American popular music history.”