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Prince, a revolutionary one-man band

HILLEL ITALIE | 4/29/2016, 6:11 p.m.
On his own, Prince was a revolutionary recording artist and one-man band.
Singer Prince is shown in concert in 1985. Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – On his own, Prince was a revolutionary recording artist and one-man band.

But the nearly 40-year career that ended with his death Thursday was hardly a private party. The other half of his musical legacy were his many collaborations and contributions, whether joining Stevie Wonder on stage in Paris for a spontaneous jam of Superstition or writing such future hits as I Feel for You and Manic Monday and giving them to other artists.

In an industry where collaborations with other artists and credits are negotiated as heavily as world treaties, Prince Rogers Nelson followed only one credo when it came to working with others: the love of the music.

“Oh yes, he loved helping other people,” said his friend and former fiancee Sheila E., “and helping people by saying, ‘Hey, here’s a song you might want to do or like, I think this fits you, or you know come into the studio and see if we can work together.’”

In recent years, he boosted singer-songwriters such as Judith Hill, Lianne La Havas, Esperanza Spalding and Liv Warfield, and recorded singers like Rita Ora. Kendrick Lamar were among the many who traveled to Paisley Park for his famous late-night jams.

Among the countless tributes to Prince over the past few days were stories of his generosity and inspiration. On her Facebook page, Erykah Badu shared a litany of memories “That time Prince was your rhythm guitarist then sent you the picture. The time Prince was so gracious to come to your club in the hood of South Dallas and play for 4 hours into the night … The time you recorded ‘Today – the earth song’ at Paisley Park. All the times y’all shot pool and argued over religion.”

Ken Ehrlich, the veteran producer of the Grammy Awards, said during an interview about luring Prince to the 2004 ceremony, where he would memorably team up with Beyonce on Purple Rain and Baby, I’m a Star.

“I had asked him on several occasions before. I had never had much success,” Ehrlich said. But as soon as he heard he would perform with Beyonce, Prince replied, “I’ll do it,” the producer said.

Prince called him and asked that they meet at a rehearsal hall in Los Angeles.

“In one day, he had laid out the entire medley” that he and Beyonce would perform, Ehrlich said.

“He put his guitar down, and he looked at me [with] a ‘look what I did’ smile,” the producer recalled. “It was like a school kid showing off for the teacher.”

Singer Kandace Springs told the Associated Press that she was contacted by Prince a couple of years ago through Twitter after he saw a YouTube video for her cover of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me. Skeptical at first that the encouraging notes really were from Prince, she was on a plane to his home in Paisley Park within days and was asked to close his 30th anniversary concert for Purple Rain. At the time, she said, she was being encouraged to take on an urban hip-hop sound, but she considered herself more of a jazz artist.