On June 2, 2022— the same day this edition of MSR hits newsstands—a 100-foot-tall mural of Prince Rogers Nelson will be unveiled high above the avenue that he made world-famous. Moreover, a stretch of First Avenue (between 7th and 8th Streets) will be ceremoniously renamed in his honor a few days from now on what would have been his 64th birthday.
Last week, the MSR profiled the muralist who painted this masterpiece: Hiero Veiga. In the coming weeks, we’ll spotlight the dynamic force behind both the mural and Prince Rogers Nelson Way—Sharon Smith-Akinsanya and Joan Vorderbruggen—and their seven-year quest to “Crown our Prince” and make Minneapolis “shine purple” every day.
Below we featured the perspectives of both fans and people directly connected to Prince as to what this all means to them and to the larger community.
The moment Jellybean Johnson first casts his eyes upon the Prince mural that now graces Ramp A in downtown Minneapolis, he can’t imagine the emotions it will stir up inside of him. “I’m so blessed to have grown up with such a generational talent,” he said. “Prince changed my life, forever.”
Johnson, who to this day remains the one and only drummer for Prince’s legendary creation, The Time, was since the very beginning part of the sound that emerged from the streets of North Minneapolis.
He is also distinguished by the fact that, in addition to many years in the Prince camp, Johnson was long an integral part of Flyte Tyme Productions, penning, producing and performing on hits by Janet Jackson, Alexander O’Neal, New Edition, Karyn White, and Mint Condition.
“Bean,” as he’s known to his closest friends, will again honor Prince during the 4th Annual “Nothing Compares 2 P” concert June 6 at the Minnesota Music Café. As for both the mural and the new Prince Rogers Nelson Way commemorative street, Johnson sees each as fitting tributes, although long overdue. “Prince not only changed the world, he made Minnesota the center of the musical universe.”
Filmmaker and entertainment executive Craig Rice was also around in the early days of the Minneapolis Sound, playing bass with some local groups, including bands with Eddie and Fred Anderson, Jr., the older brothers of André Cymone.
Related Content: Artist Hiero Veiga now painting Prince mural in downtown Mpls
Rice, after matriculating through USC’s renowned film school, got his first motion picture gig in New York City, never imagining his career would bring him back to his hometown. But it did, first as assistant director on the set of “Purple Rain,” then as road manager on the subsequent “Purple Rain Tour.” And, over the next three decades, Rice worked closely on a number of projects with Prince right up until the end.
“Why Prince matters…” mused Rice. “I mean, of course, everyone knows he’s an icon, a musical genius. But it’s essential to remember his talents were developed and nurtured here. And, in turn, he created and fostered a musical and creative culture in his hometown that rivals any culture anywhere.
“To many on either coast, this is flyover country,” continued Rice. “Prince proved that isn’t true. That is something worth holding up to the world.”
On a more personal note, Rice stated, “I’ll always consider Prince a member of my family, part of my heart and soul.” And, every time he gazes upon Prince’s mural he will “be reminded of all the times he shared with Prince and know that he’s always here in spirit.”
Prince’s fans, or “fams” as he preferred to call them, despite their ample diversity, are in many ways a rather analogous group—they have so much in common. These are the people that bought everything Prince ever released and attended every concert. Some even made this their home simply because of Prince.
Lorraine Lassig, who you’ll find at just about every event, show, or purple party in the Twin Cities, is one of these fams. “There are a lot of famous people from Minnesota who left and never came back. So, it’s important that Prince be celebrated in this way,” she said, adding, “It’ll sustain his legacy and keep it alive for generations to come.”
At least two or three times per year, and without the help of social media, Caroline Sayre hosts purple sidewalk parties that welcome scores of fellow Prince fans to her Seattle neighborhood. “Prince emerged from a segregated scene, where Black musicians had limited access to local venues,” said Sayre.
“Not only did he stick to his roots, he became an international superstar that projected his own sense of place on the world stage. This mural further sanctifies an already sacred space.”
There are many others who have cultivated their own creative ways to help advance Prince’s legacy. Artist and curator Michelle Streitz turned her adoration of Prince into a gig in the late 1980s by crafting the mirrored, heart-shaped jewelry that was part of the “Sign O’ The Times” motif along with Prince’s trademark glitter cane that he used on the Lovesexy Tour.
Today she is owner of the Elle Louise Design and Fine Art Gallery, which houses the exhibit Prince Love: Minneapolis Collections. “It’s mind-boggling how Prince still brings people together,” observed Streitz. “His image on this amazing work of art will continue that.”
Fellow artist and art historian Alexandra Prince feels a special connection to the mural. Her Prince fandom is coupled with the fact that her mother Diane was one of muralist Hiero Veiga’s high school art teachers.
“Prince cared deeply about social and political issues, so many of which the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic brought to the forefront. So does Hiero,” she noted. “This mural is a testament to what Prince continues to represent. It gives us hope.”
Heidi Vader keeps Prince’s legacy alive by merging two of his supreme passions: music and education. Her nonprofit agency Purple Playground and its Academy of Prince are where teens immerse themselves in the history of the Minneapolis Sound while learning to write and record their own songs with the assistance of teachers, presenters and musicians who played with Prince.
“Six years seems like an eternity now,” admitted Vader, “but Prince’s legacy is forever, and as I’ve seen this mural come to life it’s brought back so many memories and filled me with joy.”
Others doing this work include the likes of KaNisa Williams (Muse 2 The Pharaoh), Michael Dean (Podcast on Prince), De Angela Duff (Polished Solid Productions), Troy Gua (Le Petit Prince), Laura Tiebert (“What Would Prince Do?”), and too many more to mention.
“Prince lived as the biggest version of himself,” Tiebert asserted. And, to her eyes, “this stunning mural is a visual representation of how a kid from North Minneapolis rose to global stardom and uplifted millions of others in the process.”
A scholarly perspective
Even before Prince passed away, there were those in the academy that took note of his artistry and its influence on society and culture. Not only for his extraordinary musicianship but also for his barrier crashing, the substance of his lyrics, sharp intellect, astonishing prescience, philanthropy, and activism.
Naturally, when he died the scholarly attention to such things increased exponentially. In addition to a flood of books, academic conferences and symposiums were held at the University of Salford (UK), NYU-Brooklyn, and the University of Minnesota.
More were postponed due to the pandemic, while others went virtual. And, more are sure to come.
Among those pioneering the study of Prince at the university level are Judson L. Jeffries,
Professor of African and African American Studies at the Ohio State University, and Shannon M. Cochran, Professor of African American Studies and Gender Studies at Clayton State University. Together, they’ve edited special editions of the Journal of African American Studies and Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men, both dedicated to the life and legacy of Prince Rogers Nelson, along with a forthcoming book published by the University Press of Mississippi.
Of the painting that now overlooks our city’s entertainment district, Dr. Jeffries declared: “A humungous mural of Prince in his hometown of Minneapolis above the famous night club known as First Avenue is only matched by his huge catalog of work, larger-than-life persona, and once-in-a-lifetime talent as a musician, composer, producer, and performer. Prince may have been small in stature, but his imprint on music, the entertainment industry, and culture are befitting of such a tribute.”
Prince and the importance of public art
Fresh out of Loyola University’s School of Broadcasting in her native Chicago, Robyne Robison landed her first journalism job with WNDU-TV, the NBC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana.
One summer night in 1984, she and a date went to catch “Purple Rain” at a local theater. Mere minutes into the film she thought to herself, “I’m going there!” The music, the fashion, the visuals, and of course Prince— something different was happening in Minneapolis.
Six years later she arrived at KMSP-TV, where she was the first African American woman to anchor a primetime newscast in the Twin Cities, and ultimately the first person of color ever inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Robinson, who is back in town this week to emcee Celebration 2022 at Paisley Park, also holds the distinction as the only journalist in the North Star State to ever interview Prince on television.
A museum curator, jewelry designer, writer, and public arts consultant, Robinson and her firm Five X Five were instrumental in supporting the “Crown our Prince” project and helping to make the mural at Ramp A a reality.
“To bear witness to an artist as remarkable as Prince in our lifetimes is a gift,” said Robinson. “He’s the center of our zeitgeist, an avant-garde Black man who perhaps more than anyone made the Twin Cities what it is today—a mythical place that still draws people from across the world just to walk in his footsteps.”
Not only did Prince contribute to one of the most robust arts communities in the nation, but, as Robinson continued, “He thrived in this space. Minnesota is where he got his energy, the place that shaped who he was.”
For a good part of the past two years, Minneapolis has been the center of the universe, and not for the right reasons. “Honoring Prince in this way, in the wake of what we have been through, is important for the soul of this city, for the state.
“Minnesota needs to see itself in a positive light again,” explained Robinson. And, the historic value of public art such as this, she added, is that “the message is immediately accessible to its audience.”
In the final analysis, Robinson noted that it’s only right that we pay tribute to our favorite son in this way. “Prince deserves this. He was of the dyed-in-the-wool belief that you don’t leave this place, ever. He loved Minnesota. He loved his people. So instead of leaving, Prince brought the rest of the world to Minnesota.”
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.