×

Remembering Prince: How the Innovator Aced Both Art and Commerce

June 7 would have been the 60th birthday of Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson), who for 35 years was a huge influence in music and, equally important, in the way artists control their work. In 1981, Variety reviewed a marathon show at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, headlined by the Rolling Stones, and sighed that “The only negative response the entire day came for the brief opening set of Prince.” But he came roaring back a few months later. On Dec. 9, 1981, Variety caught his show at the Palladium in New York, and raved that “manufactured phenomenons are commonplace in pop music, while true sensations are rare. Prince, an audacious singer/guitarist from Minneapolis, has genuine star appeal.”

A few years later, he delivered his career-defining work, the album and movie “Purple Rain,” a surprise hit for distributor Warner Bros. In the July 2, 1984, review, Variety said the movie “captures the essence of the current music scene and the colorful Prince persona … director Albert Magnoli, making his feature bow, gets a solid, appealing performance from Prince, whose sensual, somewhat androgynous features are as riveting on film as they are on a concert stage.” Prince earned an Oscar for original song score, and the album won two Grammys.

After many years, Prince took control of his recordings. He launched his Paisley Park label and eventually ended his contract with Warner Bros. Records, in a noisy split. As an indie, he took the radical approach of distributing his music directly to fans online.

He was prolific and was known for his protégés, parties and purpleness.

When he died April 21, 2016, at age 58, Variety’s Andrew Barker wrote “Prince’s direct musical influence on three decades of R&B, pop, hip-hop, dance and rock is almost too obvious to state, yet perhaps his most important modern day legacy is philosophical: the need to be an ever vigilant master of one’s domain, both artistically and financially.”

Popular on Variety

More Vintage

  • 'Russian Doll' Star Natasha Lyonne on

    How Natasha Lyonne Talked Her Way Into a 1996 Movie Role as a Teen

    Two decades before her turn as the gruff-voiced, sardonic Nadia on the existential dramedy “Russian Doll,” a teenage Natasha Lyonne played DJ, the chirpy narrator in Woody Allen’s 1996 whimsical romantic-comedy musical “Everyone Says I Love You.” Lyonne’s name first appeared in Variety on Dec. 2, 1996, in a review of the Allen film.  In [...]

  • When They See Us BTS Ava

    Ava DuVernay on Moving From PR to Filmmaking, Directing 'When They See Us'

    For the past 14 years, Ava DuVernay has used film as a way to tell the often untold stories of marginalized communities — but the Oscar-nominated filmmaker has more IMDb credits as a publicist than as a director. DuVernay rose through the ranks as a PR executive early in her career before starting her own [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Word-of-Mouth Turned M. Night Shyamalan's ‘Sixth Sense’ Into a Sleeper Hit 20 Years Ago

    It’s the 20th anniversary of “The Sixth Sense,” a success that took everybody by surprise, including the filmmakers. Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan had made only two films, “Praying With Anger” and “Wide Awake,” which barely made a ripple in theaters. However, Variety reported Aug. 9, 1999, “In a surprise ending to rival the film’s twisty plot, [...]

  • Lee Pace Big Ticket Podcast

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green's Aerial Work Led to Gigs on Clint Eastwood Movies

    Cinematographer Jack N. Green is proof that nice guys sometimes finish first — even in Hollywood. Born in 1939, the San Francisco native traveled a long-rising arc in his career, which includes distinguished stints shooting aerial sequences for documentaries and some of the most iconic films of the 1960s, eventually becoming director of photography on [...]

  • Sharon Tate Mansion Muder House

    Sharon Tate's 1969 Murder Began a Sorry Chapter in Hollywood History

    Sony opens Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” on July 26, close to the 50th anniversary of the murder of Sharon Tate and four others. A front-page Variety story on Aug. 11, 1969, two days after the killings, said police described the scene as “a ritualistic mass murder.” Showbiz has since then [...]

  • Amy Sherman-Palladino - Outstanding Writing for

    'Mrs. Maisel' Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Honed Her Writing Skills on 'Roseanne'

    Last year Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” made Emmy history with wins for both comedy writing and directing, becoming the first woman to achieve that double. On July 16, her show, a ’50s period piece starring Rachel Brosnahan as an up-and-coming comedian in New York, was nominated for 20 Emmys, including outstanding [...]

  • Moon Landing

    Looking Back on the Moon Landing and the Giant Leap for TV Networks

    On July 16, 1969, Variety ran a package of stories under the headline “Greatest Show Off Earth,” detailing the three TV networks’ fever over the July 19 moon landing. CBS exec producer Robert Wussler predicted “the world’s greatest single broadcast.” Variety called it a “31-hour TV super-special,” running all day Sunday through midday Monday. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content