It seems like just about everyone in Minneapolis has a Prince story. And lots of academics have theories about the Minnesota music icon.
Dozens of academics — from Yale to Arizona State — have gathered at the University of Minnesota this week for a symposium called “Prince from Minneapolis.” The professors, graduate students and even journalists will deliver papers on such topics as “Dandyism in Prince’s Minneapolis,” “Sex and the side chick in Prince’s music,” and “What Prince learned about color and sound from Joni Mitchell.”
The symposium kicked off Monday evening at Northrop with organizer Arun Saldanha, a University of Minnesota geography professor, explaining that the goal of the three-day event is to explore “through academic knowledge” why Prince didn’t leave Minneapolis.
The symposium coincides with the second anniversary of Prince’s death on April 21. This weekend, the second annual “Celebration” will be staged at Paisley Park, his studio in Chanhassen. There will be tours, concerts and panel discussions that are once again expected to draw fans from all over the world.
At the symposium, California hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang delivered the keynote speech with Yale Prof. Daphne Brooks offering a response. Their themes dwelled on issues of race and freedom.
Chang, executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts and Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University, talked about how desegregation and resegregation affected the “Purple Moses.”
When he wasn’t throwing around professorial verbiage and references to scholars who were foreign to most Purple fans, Chang quoted Prince’s lyrics and interviews, U law professor Myron Orfield and Twin Cities journalist Andrea Swensson, author of the recent book “Got To Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound.”
Brooks, who is working on a three-volume book about black female singers, discussed the impact of women and children on the Purple One. She stubbornly essayed to connect Prince with David Bowie, partly because she’d organized a symposium on both of them last year at Yale.
About 300 people attended the speeches in the 2,700-seat auditorium. Many seemed impressed.
“This was a good opportunity to hear about Prince because I’m more about liking him for his music,” said Amelious Whyte, a University of Minnesota administrator.
Rashad Shabazz, a professor at Arizona State who is writing a book on the Minneapolis sound, will participate in two panel discussions during the symposium.
“I think it’s important to have this here in Minneapolis,” Shabazz said after the speeches. “He’s from here. He did his music here. This is the community that loves him.”
Minneapolis journalist and filmmaker Rebecca McDonald came because she’s a fan of Chang’s. “His speech inspired me as a storyteller,” she said.
No honorary degree
There have been rumors that the University of Minnesota was going to present an honorary degree to Prince during the symposium.
“The U of M has no plans to award him an honorary degree in April,” said U spokeswoman Emma Bauer.
Parts of the symposium are less academic, such as panels featuring such former Paisley Park associates as sound engineer Scottie Baldwin, hairstylist Kim Berry and dancer Mayte Garcia, Prince’s first wife.
But the emphasis is on scholars such as Dalena Ngo, a graduate student at the University of California Merced who grew up in Shakopee. She is going to deliver a paper on race and masculinity.
Ngo enjoyed the opening night discussion but thought “it was a little basic.”
Tony Kiene of Bloomington had mixed emotions after the first day of the symposium. In 1996, he wrote his master’s thesis in American studies at Purdue on Prince.
“Tonight they talked about a lot of the themes I talked about 20 years ago when I had professors laugh at me saying ‘Prince is not an academic adventure,’ ” said Kiene, who was surprised by the sparse turnout at Northrop. “This was interesting but a little wonky.”
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719