I had the good fortune of spending behind-the-scenes time with Prince several years ago. It started when I produced and wrote a cover story about him for Ebony magazine. The relationship resumed when he invited me to join his “Welcome 2 America” tour to interview all of the opening acts—legends like Maceo Parker, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, and more for a publication we were going to create.
I have spent the past few days reminiscing about our time together. Here are 10 things I loved about Prince.
1. Prince put God first.
When I met Prince at Paisley Park, we immediately talked about God and the importance of being connected spiritually in our lives. Quickly, Prince whisked me upstairs into a private room that he reserved for reading Scripture, meditating and writing. He said he wanted us to talk there because that’s where the energy was right. In his library he had books from his Jehovah’s Witnesses faith along with rare volumes of Christian texts and other world religions.
2. Prince loved the underdog.
As he launched the Welcome 2 America Tour, every late-night talk show host was vying for Prince to sit on his couch. Jimmy Fallon came to Madison Square Garden, hung out a bit with his Purple Highness and jockeyed for the interview. QuestLove was boys with Prince and had set it all up. When Prince handed the coveted interview to George Lopez, everybody’s mouth dropped. But Prince had been studying Lopez and how he connected to his viewers, and he liked what he saw. Plus, Lopez needed a ratings boost. Boy, did he get it!
3. Prince liked to mess with the press.
The Purple One called a press conference for Welcome 2 America to reveal gifts he was offering to several organizations in New York. Big checks. Geoffrey Canada from Harlem’s Children Zone was on site to receive his award. Dancer/muse Misty Copeland was there with American Ballet Theater head Rachel Moore for the photo op receiving $250,000. Prince was hanging in the shadows, feet firmly planted. Though he requested the conference Prince mainly wanted these organizations to get the shine. He didn’t want to speak or be photographed. Literally, he considered that to be against his religion. Instead, he asked me to do the presentation. Imagine how thrilled the bank of media outlets were when I stood in his place!
4. Prince did not trust promoters.
Working with LiveNation was his choice, the better of two evils, he suspected. But he still believed in his bones that they were going to cheat him. Prince studied internet ticket sales and saw how one ticket could go from a normal price to 10 times that amount because a packager had scooped it up. He wanted none of that for this tour. Prince insisted that the people be able to attend his concerts without breaking the bank. Donning his businessman’s hat, he tried to create a new business model for ticket sales working with my friends, Elrick Williams and Paula Williams Madison who own The Africa Channel, to devise a way to circumvent the promoter. Ultimately it didn’t work, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
5. Prince abhorred Apple.
You could see the artist’s blood boil as he talked about what he considered to be criminal behavior—the creation of iTunes. Why should Apple singlehandedly end the production of vinyl? Why should anyone believe that every single song that gets sold on iTunes gets reported to the artist, and the artist gets paid? Prince was so angry about this seeming monopoly over music sales that he refused to have his music sold on that platform. Trust issues?
6. Prince always wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before.
With Ebony he tried to get us to release a brand new record within the magazine itself. He had done it overseas with a British newspaper, creating instant platinum record sales and thought it would be a perfect collaboration between two iconic brands stateside to release music with his cover issue. It didn’t happen, but what a genius idea!
7. Prince was an old-school gentleman.
As I traveled around with him, eyes wide open, I saw many beautiful women by his side. Typically dressed in stunning designer evening gowns and towering stilettos, these beauties were elegantly treated with kindness and respect. Prince was the man who opened the door for a woman, who tended to her in that I-wish-he-would-do-that-to-me kind of way. And more, no one ever knew what happened behind closed doors. Drum roll, please!
8. Prince spoke to the highest in people.
One day we were having a heated argument over a big idea that we were attempting to develop together. We had reached a standstill in the discussion, and I was frustrated. In that moment of creative deterioration, he paused to say, “Harriette, don’t you realize how brilliant you are? You have everything that you need. You are great.” While that was hardly the point, his compliment helped soften the blow that we were not going to go forward with what we both agreed was a groundbreaking idea.
9. Prince was a visionary.
When Misty Copeland performed with him, dancing en pointe atop his grand piano, we all saw how fierce a ballerina she was and how electric they were together. A few weeks later, when Prince and I watched Misty perform at Lincoln Center he noted how she stood out among all the other dancers on that magnificent stage. And in a heartbeat he proclaimed that she should be made a principal dancer at once. More than just talking about it, he met with the leadership of American Ballet Theater pressing them to make it happen. Misty did indeed leap into that role some five years later.
10. Prince could stay up all night.
I had heard about the legendary after parties that he had held worldwide. After performing for hours, Prince notoriously turned up the energy for a few more hours of jamming, dancing, pumping the music. It was inspiring to see this man who had just commanded an audience of 20,000+ saunter into a small room filled with a few lucky people and sit down at a piano and just play. He was the consummate musician, after all. He was also incredibly generous. Sometimes he would offer the stage to one of his opening acts, like he did at his favorite Manhattan club, Darby, one night in New York City. He gave way for Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings who turned our souls inside out