by Danny Stout
The performer “Prince,” known for seven years as the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” is enigmatic in the LDS community. Synthesizing multiple genres from pop to blues, he broke virtually every convention, and played 12 instruments. His snappy, “Little Red Corvette” was frequently played at BYU ballroom dance competitions. The song, “Purple Rain” and subsequent movie by the same title, has achieved cult status. At 19, his first review in the New York Times said he “was clearly a talented musician.” This was corroborated at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Prince’s lead guitar performance on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” was a virtuoso’s to tribute to George Harrison.
On the one hand, Mormons bristle at the eroticism in some songs and videos; sexuality was an artistic theme in some of his music. On the other, he was a practicing Seventh-Day Adventist that became a Jehovah’s Witness. He wasn’t afraid to disclose his Christianity, which he defined broadly. His was a “feel good” rhythm that had the power to move the passive listener to the dance floor. His dancing rivaled Michael Jackson’s, and was perhaps had more sophisticated choreography. Some LDS fans describe the artist:
- “Don’t really care for his music, but you can’t deny his huge cultural impact. Plus he lived a drug free life, which is cool for someone in his position. Deserved respect.”
- “I am ashamed to say, but I didn’t know who he was til now… to my defense I do live in seclusion.”
- “I loved the movie Purple rain for its music but Prince should never had attempted acting. The man could play 27 instruments! That’s amazing! He died too early. Sad.”
- “There will never be another like him, he was the Prince of Rock.”
- “All I know is when I was a teenager and would sing along with the radio to his songs it would drive my mom nuts! Especially “When Doves Cry”. I remember being at a band competition in Nashville and all the kids who had been involved with the competition dancing to “1999”. We weren’t competitors we were just hundreds of high schoolers dancing to an awesome song.”
Based an outpouring of critical acclaim, and effusive praise around the globe, Prince is on the level of artists leaving behind an enduring body of work. Following the time-lag hypothesis, LDS fans will likely discover him in the future; he won’t be the first genius to be shunned by religionists initially, only to be praised later. Gauguin, Dali, DuChamp, and even Frank Zappa were initially rebuked by clergies, but gained appreciation as time passed. Zappa’s orchestral “Peaches in Regalia” performed in cathedrals, testifies to this rear-view mirror phenomenon. Such is likely with Prince in the LDS community. He’ll be heard at church dances.