Prince Biography

A brief biography of the the Minnesota music legend

Prince. Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images


Known for his vocal range, instrumental abilities and stage presence, Prince was a mainstay in popular music for more than three decades. A musical influence and innovator, Prince died on April 21, 2016, at the age of 57. Here is a look back at his life and career.

Prince's Early Life

Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis. Music was a significant part of his life from the beginning. His mother was a jazz singer, and his father was a pianist and a songwriter who performed in the Prince Rogers Trio, a jazz group, under the stage name "Prince Rogers." Prince is named after his father’s stage name.

Prince's First Musical Successes

Prince dabbled in music throughout his childhood, forming a popular funk band in his late teens. After shopping around a series of unsuccessful demo tapes, he released his debut album For You in 1978, but his second effort, Prince, was much more commercially successful.

It produced the hit singles "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and it went platinum. Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999 generated more acclaim for the artist, but he hit it big with 1984's Purple Rain. The album, which accompanies his film of the same, catapulted Prince into superstardom.

Prince and Purple Rain

The semi-autobiographical movie and album spawned the pop hits "Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry" as well as the titular "Purple Rain." Although the movie received somewhat mixed reviews, it had a worldwide gross of more than $80 million, with a budget of only $7 million. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score, and marked the debut not only of Prince’s backup band The Revolution, but showcased Morris Day and the Time, who were Prince’s rivals in the movie.

The Revolution dissolved after the releases of 1985's Around the World in a Day and 1986's Parade, but Prince bounced back as a solo artist with Sign "O" the Times. Riding high on a solo career, he followed up with three more albums before introducing his new backup band, The New Power Generation, in 1991's Diamonds and Pearls.

Prince’s Dispute with Warner Bros. and Name Change

In 1993 he famously changed his name to the "love symbol," and a combination of the male and female symbols, as part of an ongoing contractual dispute with his record label Warner Bros. He became known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or in some instances just “The Artist.”

He released five albums between 1994 and 1996 in an effort to free himself from his Warner Bros. contract. He joined Arista Records in 1998 and started going by "Prince" again, instead of his unpronounceable legal name. He kept busy, releasing 15 more albums post-Warner Bros. He released his 34th studio album, HITnRun phase one, in September 2015.

Prince’s Death

After a brief illness, Prince died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl at Paisley Park, his home in Chanhassen Minnesota, on April 21, 2016.  He had apparently suffered from an addiction to pain pills for many years.

Prince’s Legacy

Prince was one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records. In addition to the Academy Award, he won seven Grammys, a Golden Globe as well as numerous other awards. Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, cementing his place in music history.