Prince, who died Wednesday at 57, was more cultural force than musician. While his soaring guitar riffs and piercing falsetto voice spoke volumes about his talent, it was what he didn’t say that changed our views on race.
Prince, in daring to combine the black musical virtuosity of R&B with the structured chaos of white hard rock, forced us to move beyond the segregated musical paradigm that had taken hold in the music industry.
Prior to Prince, music was a strident reflection of America’s racial barriers. And while American musical traditions borrowed heavily from each other in unspoken ways—think Country and Western and R&B—the similarities were always expressed separately. That changed, if only for a moment, with the advent of Disco in the 70s.
But if American music was a segregated lunch counter, where blacks and whites were served separately, then Prince was the leader of a sit-in.
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Photo: Still from Prince in the film Purple Rain
Solomon Jones is an Essence bestselling author and award-winning columnist. He is the creator and editor of Solomonjones.com and morning host on 900 am WURD radio. Click here to learn more about Solomon.