Perhaps just as important as Prince putting the Twin Cities music scene on the map for the rest of the world, he blurred the lines within the local scene.
Sometimes those lines were along racial boundaries; other times they were about bold musical experimentation.
Minneapolis was still a moderately segregated city in terms of where the local bands played before 1981, when Prince played his first show at First Avenue (then named Sam’s). The African-American groups in town mostly stuck to Minneapolis on the North Side at places such as the Cozy Bar or the Riverview Supper Club.
Prince, however, took over downtown’s largest club and drew an unusually multiracial audience as a result, creating a blended party atmosphere that was celebrated on screen three years later in “Purple Rain.”
“It’s funny to see ‘Purple Rain’ from that perspective, because you could almost take the audience and the whole vibe of that [first] performance and put it in that movie,” said André Cymone, Prince’s ex-bassist and childhood friend.
“It was just a really weird time,” Cymone said. “Everything was very eclectic. All the black people weren’t just into this, and all the white people weren’t into that. Everybody was just having a whole lot of fun, enjoying the experience.”
Another prominent music figure in Minneapolis’ 1980s scene, ex-Hüsker Dü co-leader Bob Mould, remembered Prince’s influence during that era in a Facebook post. Mould was returning to First Ave for two shows on Friday and Saturday nights, after which the club once again planned to host all-night dance parties (1:30 a.m. to 7 a.m.)
“Prince was an artist through and through — always pushing himself to new levels, often creating controversy through his actions and words,” Mould said.
In many ways, that action and diversified experience are still being emulated at First Ave and around the local music scene — especially within the Twin Cities’ booming hip-hop community.
Not only are many of today’s best-known local rap and R&B performers still generating relatively diverse audiences, but artists such as P.O.S. and Lizzo also credit Prince for inspiring them to be unafraid with musical experimentation and bold expressions.
Singer/rapper/DJ Sarah White, who sang “Little Red Corvette” at the street party outside First Avenue on Thursday night, said: “Prince gave us, as black folk, permission to be whatever we wanted to be. Weird as we want, loud as we want, funky as we want, sexy and glittery as we want.”
Doomtree rapper and part-time punk-rocker P.O.S. (Stef Alexander) credited Prince for making Minneapolis “a city full of musical weirdos.”
“He kind of bucked the whole Minnesota Nice thing for something just so much stranger,” P.O.S. said. “The fact that he made it from here, and still lived here, keeps a lot of people here. His vibe has always been hanging in the air.”
Prince was literally in the air when P.O.S. was one of the acts performing at First Ave in 2010 for the fifth anniversary celebration of Minnesota Public Radio’s eclectic modern music station, 89.3 the Current. His attendance at the party was widely interpreted as a papal blessing of sorts for the wide, weird array of local music supported by the station.
He made another (final) appearance at First Ave in February for the Are You Local? showcase, another mixed-genre concert featuring the innovative, Minneapolis-rooted women’s R&B trio King. Prince had recruited King to open for him at the Forum arena in Los Angeles in 2011 well before they generated an industry buzz.
“His support was beneficial professionally, of course, but it also just meant the world personally,” King’s Paris Strother said. “Growing up in Minneapolis and being an aspiring musician, he’s just a huge part of your DNA. Everything about him.”
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658