Prince was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the son of Mattie Della (Shaw) and John Lewis Nelson. His parents were both African-American and his family ancestry is centered in Louisiana, with all four of his grandparents hailing from that state. Prince's father was a pianist and songwriter and his mother was a jazz singer. Prince was named after his father, whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and who performed with a jazz group called the Prince Rogers Trio. In a 1991 interview with A Current Affair, Prince's father said, "I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do". Prince's childhood nickname was Skipper.
In a PBS interview, Prince told Tavis Smiley that he was "born epileptic" and "used to have seizures" when he was young. During the interview, he also said: "My mother told me one day I walked in to her and said, 'Mom, I'm not going to be sick anymore,' and she said, 'Why?' and I said, 'Because an angel told me so'."
Prince's sister Tika Evene (usually called Tyka) was born in 1960. Both siblings developed a keen interest in music, and this was encouraged by their father. Prince wrote his first tune, "Funk Machine", on his father's piano when he was seven. When Prince was ten years old, his parents separated. Prince constantly switched homes following the separation, sometimes living with his father and sometimes with his mother and stepfather. Finally, he moved into the home of neighbors named the Andersons and befriended their son Andre Anderson, who later became known as André Cymone.
Prince and Anderson joined Prince's cousin Charles Smith in a band called Grand Central while they were attending Minneapolis's Central High School. Smith was later replaced by Morris Day on the drums. Prince played piano and guitar for the band, which performed at clubs and parties in the Minneapolis area. Grand Central later changed its name to Champagne and started playing original music influenced by Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and Todd Rundgren. Rock critics have noted similarities between Prince's later androgynous look, music and vocal style and that of Little Richard.
Prince also played basketball in high school, and continued to play it for recreation as an adult, which later inspired a famous Dave Chappelle sketch.
In 1975, Pepe Willie, the husband of Prince's cousin, Shauntel, formed the band 94 East with Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry. Willie hired André Cymone and Prince to record tracks with 94 East. Those songs were written by Willie and Prince contributed guitar tracks. Prince also co-wrote, with Willie, the 94 East song, "Just Another Sucker". The band recorded tracks which later became the album Minneapolis Genius – The Historic 1977 Recordings. Prince also recorded, but never released, a song written by Willie, "If You See Me" (also known as, "Do Yourself a Favor"). In 1995, Willie released the album 94 East featuring Prince, Symbolic Beginning, which included original recordings by Prince and Cymone.
In 1976, Prince created a demo tape with producer Chris Moon in Moon's Minneapolis studio. Unable to secure a recording contract, Moon brought the tape to Owen Husney, a Minneapolis businessman. Husney signed Prince, at the age of 17, to a management contract and helped Prince create a demo recording at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis using producer/engineer David Z. The demo recording, along with a press kit produced at Husney's ad agency, resulted in interest from several record companies including Warner Bros. Records, A&M Records, and Columbia Records.
With the help of Husney, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros.. The record company agreed to give Prince creative control for three albums and ownership of the publishing rights.Husney and Prince then left Minneapolis and moved to Sausalito, California where Prince's first album, For You, was recorded at Record Plant Studios. Subsequently, the album was mixed in Los Angeles and released on April 7, 1978. According to the For You album notes, Prince produced, arranged, composed and played all 27 instruments on the recording. The album was written and performed by Prince, except for the song "Soft and Wet" which had lyrics co-written by Moon. The cost of recording the album was twice Prince's initial advance. Prince used the Prince's Music Co. to publish his songs. "Soft and Wet" reached No. 12 on the Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song "Just as Long as We're Together" reached No. 91 on the Hot Soul Singles chart.
In 1979, Prince created a band that included André Cymone on bass, Dez Dickerson on guitar, Gayle Chapman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, and Bobby Z. on drums. Their first show was at the Capri Theater on January 5, 1979. Warner Bros. executives attended the show but decided that Prince and the band needed more time to develop his music. In October 1979, Prince released a self-titled album, Prince, which was No. 4 on the Billboard Top R&B/Black Albums charts, and No. 22 on the Billboard 200, going platinum. It contained two R&B hits: "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover". "I Wanna Be Your Lover" sold over a million copies, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 for two weeks on the Hot Soul Singles chart. Prince performed both these songs on January 26, 1980, on American Bandstand. On this album, Prince used Ecnirp Music – BMI.
In 1980, Prince released the album, Dirty Mind, which he recorded in his own studio. The album was certified gold and the attendant single "Uptown" reached No. 5 on the Billboard Dance chart and No. 5 on the Hot Soul Singles charts. Prince was also the opening act for Rick James' 1980 Fire It Up tour. Dirty Mind contained sexually explicit material, including the title song, "Head", and the song "Sister". In February 1981, Prince made his first appearance on Saturday Night Live, performing "Partyup". In October 1981, Prince released the album, Controversy. He played several dates in support of it, at first as one of the opening acts for the Rolling Stones, who were then on tour in the US. He began 1982 with a small tour of college towns where he was the headlining act. The songs on Controversy were published by Controversy Music – ASCAP, a practice he continued until the Emancipation album in 1996. Controversy also marked the introduction of Prince's use of abbreviated spelling, such as spelling the words you as U, to as 2, and for as 4, as indicated by the inclusion of the track "Jack U Off". (His earlier song titles had used conventional spelling.) By 2002, MTV.com noted that "[n]ow all of his titles, liner notes and Web postings are written in his own shorthand spelling, as seen on 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, which featured 'Hot Wit U.'"
In 1981, Prince formed a side project band called the Time. The band released four albums between 1981 and 1990, with Prince writing and performing most of the instrumentation and backing vocals, with lead vocals by Morris Day. In late 1982, Prince released a double album, 1999, which sold over three million copies. The title track was a protest against nuclear proliferation and became his first top ten hit in countries outside the US. Prince's "Little Red Corvette" was one of the first two videos by a black artist played in heavy rotation on MTV, along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean".The song "Delirious" also placed in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
During this period Prince referred to his band as the Revolution. The band's name was also printed, in reverse, on the cover of 1999 inside the letter "I" of the word "Prince". The band consisted of Lisa Coleman and Doctor Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z. on drums, Brown Mark on bass, and Dez Dickerson on guitar. Jill Jones, a backing singer, was also part of The Revolution line up for the 1999 album and tour. Following the 1999 Tour, Dickerson left the group for religious reasons. In the 2003 book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, author Alex Hahn says that Dickerson was reluctant to sign a three-year contract and wanted to pursue other musical ventures. Dickerson was replaced by Wendy Melvoin, a childhood friend of Coleman. At first the band was used sparsely in the studio but this gradually changed during the mid-1980s.
Prince's 1984 album Purple Rain sold more than 13 million copies in the US and spent 24 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The film of the same name won an Academy Award and grossed more than $80 million in the US.
Songs from the film were hits on pop charts around the world, while "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" reached No. 1 and the title track reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. At one point in 1984, Prince simultaneously had the No. 1 album, single, and film in the US; it was the first time a singer had achieved this feat. Prince won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain, and the album is ranked 72nd Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album is included on the list of Time magazine's All-Time 100 Albums. After Tipper Gore heard her 12-year-old daughter Karenna listening to Prince's song "Darling Nikki", she founded the Parents Music Resource Center. The center advocates the mandatory use of a warning label ("Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics") on the covers of records that have been judged to contain language or lyrical content unsuitable for minors. The recording industry later voluntarily complied with this request. Of what is considered the Filthy Fifteen Prince's compositions appear no. 1 and no. 2, with the fourth position occupied by his protégée Vanity.
In 1985, Prince announced that he would discontinue live performances and music videos after the release of his next album. His subsequent recording Around the World in a Day held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 for three weeks. In 1986 his album Parade reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the R&B charts. The first single, "Kiss", with the video choreographed by Louis Falco, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was originally written for a side project called Mazarati. That same year the song "Manic Monday", which was written by Prince and recorded by The Bangles, reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart. The album Parade served as the soundtrack for Prince's second film, Under the Cherry Moon. Prince directed and starred in the movie, which also featured Kristin Scott Thomas. He received the Golden Raspberry Award for his efforts in acting and directing.
In 1986, Prince began a series of sporadic live performances called the Hit n Run – Parade Tour. After the tour Prince abolished The Revolution, fired Wendy & Lisa and replaced Bobby Z. with Sheila E. Brown Mark quit the band while keyboardist Doctor Fink remained. Prince then recruited new band members Miko Weaver on guitar, Atlanta Bliss on trumpet, Eric Leeds on saxophone, Boni Boyer on keyboards, Levi Seacer, Jr. on bass and dancer Cat Glover.
Prior to the disbanding of The Revolution, Prince was working on two separate projects, The Revolution album Dream Factory and a solo effort, Camille. Unlike the three previous band albums, Dream Factory included significant input from the band members and even featured a number of songs with lead vocals by Wendy & Lisa, while the Camille project saw Prince create a new persona primarily singing in a speeded-up, female-sounding voice. With the dismissal of The Revolution, Prince consolidated material from both shelved albums, along with some new songs, into a three-LP album to be titled Crystal Ball. However, Warner Bros. forced Prince to trim the triple album to a double album and Sign "O" the Times was released on March 31, 1987.
The album peaked at No.6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The first single, "Sign o' the Times", would chart at No. 3 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "If I Was Your Girlfriend" charted poorly at No. 67 on the Hot 100, but went to No.12 on R&B chart. The third single, a duet with Sheena Easton, "U Got the Look" charted at No. 2 on the Hot 100, No. 11 on the R&B chart, and the final single "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" finished at No.10 on Hot 100 and No.14 on the R&B chart.
Despite receiving the greatest critical acclaim of any album in Prince's career, including being named the top album of the year by the Pazz & Jop critics' poll, and eventually selling 3.2 million copies, album sales steadily declined. In Europe, however, it performed well and Prince promoted the album overseas with a lengthy tour. Putting together a new backing band from the remnants of The Revolution, Prince added bassist Levi Seacer, Jr., Boni Boyer on keyboards, and dancer/choreographer Cat Glover to go with new drummer Sheila E. and holdovers Miko Weaver, Doctor Fink, Eric Leeds, Atlanta Bliss, and the Bodyguards (Jerome, Wally Safford, and Greg Brooks) for the Sign o' the Times Tour.
The tour was a success overseas, with Warner Bros. and Prince's managers wanting to bring it to the US to resuscitate sagging sales of Sign "O" the Times; however, Prince balked at a full US tour, as he was ready to produce a new album. As a compromise the last two nights of the tour were filmed for release in movie theaters. The film quality was deemed subpar and reshoots were performed at his Paisley Park studios. The film Sign o' the Times was released on November 20, 1987. Much like the album, the film garnered more critical praise than the previous year's Under the Cherry Moon; however, its box-office receipts were minimal, and it quickly left theaters.
The next album intended for release was to be The Black Album. More instrumental and funk and R&B themed than recent releases, The Black Album also saw Prince experiment with hip hop music on the songs "Bob George" and "Dead on It". Prince was set to release the album with a monochromatic black cover with only the catalog number printed, but after 500,000 copies had been pressed, Prince had a spiritual epiphany that the album was evil and had it recalled. It would later be released by Warner Bros. as a limited edition album in 1994. Prince went back in the studio for eight weeks and recorded Lovesexy.
Released on May 10, 1988, Lovesexy serves as a spiritual opposite to the dark The Black Album. Every song is a solo effort by Prince, with exception of "Eye No" which was recorded with his backing band at the time, dubbed the "Lovesexy Band" by fans. Lovesexy would reach No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and No. 5 on the R&B albums chart. The lead single, "Alphabet St.", peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B chart, but finished with only selling 750,000 copies.
Prince again took his post-Revolution backing band (minus the Bodyguards) on a three leg, 84-show Lovesexy World Tour; although the shows were well received by huge crowds, they lost money due to the expensive sets and incorporated props.
In 1989, Prince appeared on Madonna's studio album Like a Prayer, co-writing and singing the duet "Love Song" and playing electric guitar (uncredited) on the songs "Like a Prayer", "Keep It Together", and "Act of Contrition". He also began work on a number of musical projects, including Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic and early drafts of his Graffiti Bridge film, but both were put on hold when he was asked by Batmandirector Tim Burton to record several songs for the upcoming live-action adaptation. Prince went into the studio and produced an entire nine-track album that Warner Bros. released on June 20, 1989. Batman peaked at No.1 on the Billboard 200, selling 4.3 million copies.The single "Batdance" topped the Billboard and R&B charts.
Additionally, the single "The Arms of Orion" with Sheena Easton charted at No. 36, and "Partyman" (also featuring the vocals of Prince's then-girlfriend, nicknamed Anna Fantastic) charted at No. 18 on the Hot 100 and at No. 5 on the R&B chart, while the love ballad "Scandalous!" went to No. 5 on the R&B chart. However, he did have to sign away all publishing rights to the songs on the album to Warner Bros. as part of the deal to do the soundtrack.
In 1990, Prince went back on tour with a revamped band for his stripped down, back-to-basics Nude Tour. With the departures of Boni Boyer, Sheila E., the horns, and Cat, Prince brought in Rosie Gaines on keys, drummer Michael Bland, and dancing trio The Game Boyz (Tony M., Kirky J., and Damon Dickson). The European and Japanese tour was a financial success with its short, greatest hits setlist. As the year progressed, Prince finished production on his fourth film, Graffiti Bridge, and the album of the same name. Initially, Warner Bros. was reluctant to fund the film, but with Prince's assurances it would be a sequel to Purple Rain as well as the involvement of the original members of The Time, the studio greenlit the project. Released on August 20, 1990, the album reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and R&B albums chart. The single "Thieves in the Temple" reaching No. 6 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B chart. Also from that album, "Round and Round" placed at No. 12 on the US charts and No. 2 on the R&B charts. The song featured the teenage Tevin Campbell (who also had a role in the film) on lead vocals. The film, released on November 20, 1990, was a critical and box-office flop, grossing just $4.2 million. After the release of the film and album, the last remaining members of The Revolution, Miko Weaver and Doctor Fink, left Prince's band.