On the same day that the Queen of England celebrated her Platinum Jubilee in London, Minneapolis honored its very own monarch: His Royal Badness, Prince Rogers Nelson.
A 100-foot-tall mural of our favorite son, painted by internationally renowned artist Hiero Veiga, now looks out over the city’s entertainment district and the legendary music club that Prince established as an international landmark almost 40 years ago.
Last night’s event, billed as the “Purple Block Party,” saw throngs of people descend on First Avenue North, including many Prince fans from out of state and around the world, here for this weekend’s Celebration 2022 at Paisley Park.
Seven-time Beat Battle Champion of the Twin Cities DJ Mickey Breeze spun a number of Prince hits during the first hour, ending his set with three mid-80s classics: “Pop Life,” “Anotherloverholenyohead,” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
Next, party hosts, Chantel Sings, and Walter “Q-Bear” Banks welcomed the burgeoning crowd while exchanging some playful banter. When Chantel asked Q-Bear about his favorite Prince song, he wittily noted that it’s the same thing he’s been saying to women all his life: “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?” Chantel’s favorite, by the way, is ”Controversy.”
The two KMOJ deejays, North Side icons in their own right, then welcomed another Twin Cities institution to the stage, Dr. Mambo’s Combo, which counts Minneapolis Sound veterans Sonny Thompson, Michael Bland, Margie Cox, and the late Billy Franze among its former members. Fronted by powerhouse vocalists Ashley Commodore and Julius Collins, the Combo’s energetic set was bookmarked by a pair of Prince’s highest charting singles, “Sign O’ The Times” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
A little after 9 pm, the dynamic duo behind the mural, also known as the “Crown Our Prince” project, graced the stage for the first time. With the blessings of Prince himself, it was Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, CEO of the Rae Mackenzie Group, and public art expert Joan Vorderbruggen, that conquered a multitude of roadblocks to successfully carry out this seven-year project “across the finish line.”
Things became a little emotional when they introduced two of Prince’s sisters, Norrine and Tyka Nelson, each of whom spoke to the crowd.
Tyka mentioned some of the many ways downtown has been important to their family through the years, recounting how she and Prince would often catch the #19 bus over North, and then, with transfers in hand, make a pit stop at Shinders bookstore on Hennepin Ave. before continuing on to their destination.
Promising not to cry, she closed by telling those gathered to honor her older brother, “Thank you for loving him. He loved you.”
Smith-Akinsanya and Vorderbruggen then returned, and, after acknowledging the major sponsors, additional contributors, and the three photographers whose images served as the basis for the mural, further hyped up an already electric crowd, before introducing Veiga.
The unassuming and soft-spoken muralist did not address the audience, but no doubt felt its love and appreciation as he embraced Vorderbruggen and Smith-Akinsanya, the latter of whom lovingly referred to Veiga as “our child.”
Finally, as the opening chords of “Purple Rain” reverberated through the nearby streets and skies above Minneapolis, Veiga’s masterpiece was doused in brilliant light, officially dedicating the mural and fulfilling the promise to “make Minneapolis shine purple.”
DJ Mickey Breeze closed out the night with a more adventurous set the second time around consisting of a couple of classic Prince B-sides, including “Violet the Organ Grinder,” in which Prince repeatedly declares, “I’ll die, but I won’t go away.” That certainly rings true to all his fans.
And, though he didn’t end with it, Breeze’s inclusion of “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night,” recorded live in Paris on the 1986 Parade Tour, proved to be the perfect depiction of the night’s festivities.
In upcoming editions of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, where we’ll shine a spotlight on the unwavering force behind both the Prince mural and the renaming of First Avenue (between 7th and 8th Streets) as Prince Rogers Nelson Way—Sharon Smith-Akinsanya and Joan Vorderbruggen.
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 email@example.com.