People all over this planet are donning purple, playing his music and grieving the passing of yet another icon—the one and only Prince. A musical genius by all accounts from friends and musicians in the industry, who could play as many as 20 instruments and mastered the genres of Funk, Rock, R & B, Pop, New Wave, and his own brand of fusion.
Prince was Michael Jackson’s musical “nemesis” back in the day. They were both born in the Midwest and were the same age born only a few weeks apart. The rivalry was real and intense. Michael reached out to Prince to collaborate and Prince was offended. The song? “I’m bad.” Probably not the best choice by Michael for Prince truly was the bad boy of his generation. Prince re-recorded the song with his spin on it and sent it back to Michael with a note that “this is how you should have done it.” Whoa. They never did work together.
Michael was counseled by Kenny Ortega in the run up to his last tour “this Is It” to take it easy and get more rest. Michael answered that he was in the midst of writing a song and like most artists, it was haunting him until done. Kenny told him to put it on hold. Michael believed that God sent his songs and that they were created in the ethers and only plucked and downloaded by those who heard them in their heads, which is precisely how Michael wrote songs—as not the creator but only the scribe. Michael said to Kenny that he couldn’t put it aside as he was in the process of downloading and if he ignored it, “God might give it to Prince.” In an archived interview, Prince too credited something beyond this world for sending his music and remarked that he wrote down lyrics just as they were given to him. Most people would agree that both artists not only were “out of this world” but so was their creativity, persona and art.
Prince’s passing has lit up bridges and landmarks in purple as the world embraces a legacy and says farewell to an icon that for many, represented the soundtrack of their lives. The mourning is worldwide just as it was with Michael. but the Internet is still working; Michael’s death shut it down. Prince was certainly more notorious than Michael and far more controversial; yet Michael was vilified despite being a victim of extortion. And he too, was black. Michael was accused of lightening his skin (in reality, he had Vitiligo) but just today someone (white, of course) claimed Prince was more white than black. What? Are we still having that conversation? It’s racist, of course. Both Prince and Michael were taken advantage of by their respective recording companies and both publicly feuded with them. Seems there is still much to come out about black artists. Anonymous—where are you when we need good hackers to expose a brand of greed rarely recognized? Michael staged a protest and Prince quietly wrote “Slave”on his cheek during a performance. Both were considered enigmas and “mysterious” and “dark.” Prince more dark than Michael in his in-your-face rebellion.
The media will unfortunately detract from the fact that we are in Earth Week and today is Earth Day, something Prince himself would not have wanted. They’ll infuse an inordinate amount of melodrama as they focus on “the last days of Prince” and wait breathlessly for the autopsy, the tabloids salivating at the possibility that drugs were involved. Anything to bring down a powerful and successful black man. Yes, we’re still having that conversation. For Prince, the music was everything just as it was with Michael. I would love to hear the concert behind the pearly gates—Michael, Whitney, Bowie and now Prince.
The man, Prince wanted to be remembered for his music and he couldn’t tell us about his philanthropy because it was against his religion. He had gone so far as to change his name to a symbol (“Love”) so that the companies who represented him, his image and music, could no longer capitalize on the name “Prince” which he felt they used and abused, going so far as to trademark and copyright everything related to him. One day he went so far as to show up in public with the word “Slave” written on his cheek.
In the last decade of his life, he had become a Jehovah Witness. He and Michael had that in common also. As as a Jehovah Witness, he, like Michael, was encouraged to proselytize but to keep silent about his good works. We are about to find out that Prince was a humanitarian and that a lot of his energy and philanthropy was directed at Mother Earth, the inner city and making black lives matter.
He would not want his death to overshadow Earth Day. He was a vegetarian who condemned animal abuse putting in the liner notes for his “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic” album a message about the cruelty of wool production. He cared about the environment– “there are places that have installed solar panels where they have no idea Prince paid for it,” according to Van Jones.
He worked closely with Van Jones, attorney, CNN commentator and former White House policy advisor, and environmentalist author, who founded Dream Corps, The Dream, Green for All, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change. Prince was his greatest benefactor.
It’s not well known that Prince was a founder, contributor and benefactor of “Yes We Code,” a program for urban youth that he wanted to pioneer after the death of Trayvon Martin. In partnership with Oakland based organizations, “Yes We Code” launched an interactive website with a powerful search tool that enables users to find local coding education resources and helps users find local events and learn more about coding opportunities. They’ve brought together more than 100 coding practitioners and stakeholders in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans. They also partnered with Qeyno Labs to host a Start-Up Weekend hackathon in February 2015, focused on uplifting young African-American men and boys.
“Yes We Code” launched at the 20th Anniversary ESSENCE Festival in July with a youth-focused hackathon and a headline performance by Prince, before a festival audience of 500,000 people. Prince wanted to make a difference in young black lives because he recognized and commented on the racial disparity saying: ‘You know, every time people see a young black man wearing a hoodie, they think, he’s a thug. But if they see a young white guy wearing a hoodie they think, oh that might be Mark Zuckerberg. That might be a dot-com billionaire. It’s because we have not produced enough black Mark Zuckerbergs. That’s on us. That’s on us. To deal with what we’re not doing to get our young people prepared to be a part of this new information economy.'”
The company, “Yes We Code” has posted a photo and message in purple on its website saying, simply, “Thank you Prince.”
In the next few days, we are going to hear more about the humanitarian work of an icon who truly belongs to the world. But as someone who gave such a great gift and who wanted us to remember the music instead of his name, To honor him, you might make a donation in his name. Prince would not want us to forget Earth Day.