The colorful and eternal impact of
Prince, David Bowie and Maurice White
By Ariel Worthy
Times staff writer
Not many people can be recognized by a simple color, but when music-lovers see the color purple they instantly think of Prince.
The world was devastated when the heart-wrenching news dropped that seven-time Grammy winner Prince had died last week. He was 57.
The year 2016 is only four months in and has already lost three musicians that impacted the music world greatly: Prince, Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire, who passed in February and David Bowie, who passed in January.
Each artist had distinctive sounds and impacted the future of their genres. Each made fashion statements in their own way and each were multi-instrumentalists.
To say Prince was a rockstar, would be too easy. He touched people all over the world, no matter what race. But through it all he still knew who he was.
He often spoke his mind, a characteristic that people loved. Whether it was shading at other celebrities, or being honest about issues in the world, Prince never held back.
At the 2015 Grammy’s he took the stage in a shiny orange outfit, with an equally shiny silver cane and a perfectly coiffed afro. The people took to the internet to give him the nickname “Baby Carrot” and “tha gawd.”
His message – and facial expressions- were clear, though.
“Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter,” he said before announcing Album of the Year winner Beck.
Places like Birmingham City Hall, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Lowry Ave. Bridge in Minneapolis – Prince’s hometown – all lit purple to honor him. Even NASA tweeted a picture of a purple nebula in honor of the 57 year old icon.
Prince was regarded as a sex symbol for his androgynous and fluid sexuality. His audacious styles, such as ruffle blouses, high heel shoes, and makeup were fashion statements that many people did not second guess.
“I find freedom sexy,” he said in a 1996 interview with NME. “You wake up every day and feel like you can do anything.”
After the icon’s death last week, many people took to Twitter to tell stories of how Prince inspired them. GQ editor Mark Anthony Green was one those.
“Thanks to Purple Rain, I can feel confident while flirting with the prettiest girl in the room, even though my pants are tighter than hers,” Green said. “Prince was royalty, and royalty isn’t affected by petty things like stigmas.”
When it came to his music and performing, he was just as bold as he was with his clothes.
Not many men could pull off sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the stage and inviting his fans to take a bath with him, but on his Purple Rain Tour in 1984-1985 Prince did. And no one dared to question him.
On his first few albums, Prince played nearly all of the instruments, including 27 instruments on his debut album. Among them were different types of bass, drums, keyboards and synthesizers. It was said that Prince had so much unreleased music, that they could release an album every year for the next century.
He was constantly working.
In a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “When they [the band] were sleeping, I was jamming. When they woke up, I had another groove.”
Prince wasn’t the only hard-working, bold music icon that the world lost this year.
People around the globe were shocked when they got the news that David Bowie had died from liver cancer.
Much like Prince, the singer/songwriter/actor/producer was sexually ambiguous was not afraid to “go there” with his wardrobe. Similar to Prince, the Grammy Award winner influenced different genres from rock music.
While albums like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane focus more on glam rock, there were songs like Space Oddity that had a folk-inspired sound. Albums like Hunky Dory had a folk/jazz theme in some of the songs.
He, too, played a number of instruments including the harmonica, saxophone, stylophone, viola, cello, drums and percussion. Celebrities of all genres reacted to his death similarly.
“David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace. #RIPDavidBowie,” producer/rapper Pharrell Williams said.
“What a[n] honor, what a soul. David Bowie, Spirit of Gold. RIP.” rapper Kendrick Lamar posted.
Even Kanye gave his condolences. “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”
After the world mourned the loss of Bowie, the reminiscence began again a few weeks later with the news of the death of Earth, Wind & Fire icon Maurice White, who died from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, which he had been diagnosed with in the late 1980s.
Besides being a staple at every black family gathering (cookouts, family reunions, wedding receptions, and mom and dad just pulling out the records of (to “show you what real music is”) EWF – whose hits included “Shining Star”, “Reasons”, “That’s The Way of the World” and “September” – influenced a number of musicians, and were sampled in works of countless rappers. Those rappers include Jay-Z, Missy Elliot, Big Pun, Tupac, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ).
Rapper Q-Tip of (ATCQ) often spoke on his love for EWF, and after White died, he left a message about the producer/singer on Twitter.
“D— all of my Heroes are moving on…. EWF was the blueprint for tribe … R.I.P. To the genius that was Maurice White.”
Much like Prince and Bowie, White also dabbled in unique instruments, like the thumb piano, and collaborated with a number of celebrities, including Jennifer Holliday, Chaka Khan, Angie Stone, Kirk Franklin and Ledisi.
White -who also had a Grammy for Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You into My Life”- was before Prince’s time, so when it came to wearing tight pants and still being secure in his masculinity, White beat the Artist to it.
In an article about Maurice White on TheRoot.com, author Dhiraj Naseen said, “Stage presence was EWF’s hallmark, and White never disappointed – kickin’, runnin’, jumpin’, all while rockin’ pants so tight, it looked as if tailors had to sew them on.”