This two-part installment of Purple Music shares the story of how Robyne Robinson — Twin Cities broadcast legend, style guru, and cultural icon in her own right — came to be the first and only media professional to interview Prince Rogers Nelson on local television.
Conclusion of a two-part story
Prince’s request for an interview was still fresh on Robyne Robinson’s mind as she left Paisley Park that fateful day. It was not lost of her that no other local or national news anchor or reporter had been able to secure a sit-down television interview with the legendary entertainer.
“But Fargo?” she thought to herself. After all, Paisley Park was less than a 15-minute drive from the KMSP studios. All the same, if Prince wanted Robinson to travel to Fargo, he certainly wouldn’t “have to ask twice.” And the location made sense, for Prince anyway.
After a month-long hiatus, Prince’s “Jam of The Year” tour was getting ready to start up again with a two-night stand at the Target Center. These shows would mark his first official tour stops at a Twin Cities venue since a pair of “Lovesexy” tour dates at Bloomington’s Met Center in September of 1988. As a “warm-up” for the hometown gigs on December 10 and 11, Prince scheduled a performance at the 22,000 seat Fargodome.
So, on December 8, 1997, Robinson and her crew from KMSP made the 244-mile trek up Interstate 94 West from Eden Prairie to North Dakota’s largest city. As soon as they walked through the rear entrance of the building, they were greeted by someone they assumed to be a member of Prince’s staff. “We’re here to interview Prince,” said Robinson, to which the staffer flatly replied, “No!”
Incredulous, Robinson insisted, “Yes, we are. This has all been previously arranged.” The man disappeared for a moment, but soon re-appeared to escort Robinson and her crew into the dressing room of Takumi Suetsugu, Prince’s long-time guitar tech.
Soon after, Prince walked into the room sporting a dark purple suit accented in gold, sand-colored cashmere coat, black beret, and designer shades to match.
What Robinson suspected would be a brief 10-minute interview, turned into more than an hour during which they discussed, among other things, Prince’s then-name change; his “emancipation” from Warner Brothers; his Love 4 One Another Foundation; the constant need to create new music; and misgivings about criticism of any kind, be it music-related or otherwise.
Robinson also got Prince to touch on the music industry’s historic and persistent mistreatment of Black artists, as well as his nearly 10-year hiatus from performing a major concert in Minneapolis due to what he perceived as poor treatment from the local “fickle” press.
Unquestionably, the funniest moment from the interview, which in retrospect is quite heartbreaking, is when Robinson said, “I don’t see you 20 years from now doing a dinosaur tour. Just going out and touring at 60… Is there a point in which you will stop?”
Without hesitation, Prince declared, “God willing, if I make it to 60, I’ll definitely be playing. So, you can call me what you want.” Robinson gleefully interjected, “Grandpa’s cool,” to which Prince, in his classic fashion retorted: “Yeah, Grandpa’s cool; go ‘head on. And Grandpa will still whoop that behind!”
As the talk wound down, Prince let it be known that he was quite taken with Robinson’s purple sunglasses and asked if he could wear them on stage that night. As she started to hand them to him, Robinson had second thoughts, and swiftly pulled them back to Prince’s apparent astonishment.
“You know what,” she said, “You jump off the piano and my glasses will fly right into some girl’s hands in the first row and I’ll be out $300. That might not be a lot of money to you, but it is to me.”
Prince wasn’t too terribly offended, as he then asked if Larry Graham could join them to speak in front of the cameras, as well. Graham (one of Prince’s all-time musical heroes) and his legendary Graham Central Station had recently taken over for Chaka Khan as Prince’s opening act.
Since he was unfamiliar with the local music scene, Graham was initially unsure what the show was about. Before Robinson could respond, Prince chimed in, “It’s called ‘The Buzz.’ They report on the local music scene in Minneapolis. They don’t criticize it; they just tell you what it is.” Robinson’s heart fluttered; she saw this as confirmation that Prince saw her as an ally, someone in the media that he could trust.
So, moved by her experience, Robinson chose to commemorate the evening by getting a tattoo shortly after she returned to the Twin Cities. The tattoo she chose: an image of a pre-Columbian Rattle Walking Stick, symbolizing the god of the storytellers.
Her thrill ride of emotions, however, was far from over as the day after the interviewed aired, Robinson found herself witnessing the first of Prince’s two Target Center concerts from the soundboard with Mayte and friends.
She also joined the tour bus back to Paisley Park for the after show, where Prince graciously allowed her to sit on the side of the stage. At one point during the performance, he moseyed on over to her and asked, “Can you dance?”
Considering it a challenge, Robinson rose to her feet and for those of us who there that night, let it be said that Beyoncé has nothing on our own Ms. Robinson!
Over the years, Robinson and Prince had the opportunity to hang out from time to time. She scored a second television interview with Prince inside Paisley Park in late 1999. There was also the occasion that they ran into one another at The Roxy on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. And, the time back on the Paisley Park stage where she found herself singing background vocals with Gwen Stefani.
In reflecting on her experiences with Prince, Robinson noted that even in casual conversations, she was always unnerved about what he might say. She added that the feeling may have been mutual, as in more than one instance, Prince seemed taken aback by something she said. She readily admits, “I have no filter.”
What she remembers most about Prince, however, was his charm, grace, sense of humour, and on occasion, his vulnerability. “By giving me that night in Fargo,” Robinson reflected, “Prince essentially blessed my career in the Twin Cities. For that I am forever grateful.”
“It is agonizing to me,” she continued, “that there is still this silly, B.S. narrative that follows Prince and somehow overlooks his brilliance. Perhaps in 20, 30, or even 100 years, all people will truly realize what a genius he was.” Amen, Robyne, amen.
Tony Kiene’s experience in the Twin Cities nonprofit and entertainment industries includes work with Minneapolis Urban League, Penumbra Theatre, Hallie Q. Brown, and Pepé Music.
He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.