When Prince passed away at age 57, he left no wife, no children, and maybe not even a will. What he did leave was a rich legacy in protégées. Prince was a singular mentor like no other, especially today, where the closest thing to mentoring in pop music is getting one of the stars of NBC’s The Voice to turn their reclining chairs.
It was well known in the music industry that Prince likes working alone, he even turned down Michael Jackson’s request to duet with him for the first track of Thriller. Even though teaming up with other famous musicians could have given Prince a promotional boost, Prince perfected preferred the challenge of molding and guiding new talent. He often had new musicians working in his backup bands and side projects, eventually getting the opportunity to launch their own careers. However, Prince was not interested in molding the talent in his own image. Instead, he tried to help them bring forth their own visions according to their own talents.
Ingrid Chavez was a poet and songwriter who met Prince at a bar in 1987. After sharing some of her work with him, Prince invited her to his Paisley Park Studios a few days later. He told Chavez to record something. Eventually, Prince included Chavez on the tracks Lovesexy and Alphabet Street. And he cast her as his love interest in Graffiti Bridge, the sequel to the movie Purple Rain. Prince’s interest was in Chavez the talent, not in her ability to sell records. She released a spoken-word poetry album through Paisley Park, which went decidedly against the formulas of pop music in the 1990s. Chavez went on to write on Madonna’s track Justify My Love.
Prince continued mentoring and championing new artists right up until his death. He even signed Judith Hill, an R&B singer from The Voice, and sent out a glowing press release in 2015 saying he expected her to be a superstar one day. He also made weekly recommendations on new music for the music streaming site Tidal, where he singled out artists who were little known.
As for some of Prince’s most famous protégées, here’s a quick cheat sheet:
- Prince’s first protégée was Sheila E, who he discovered when she was playing in her father’s band in 1978. the drummer quickly became a star in her own right after appearing with Prince on Purple Rain. Prince produced her hit debut album, The Glamorous Life in 1984.
- Wendy Melvin and Lisa Coleman met when they were part of his backing band, The Revolution. The two became stars and released their own albums under the name “Wendy & Lisa.” The two have been a couple for over 20 years, and provide scores for TV shows like Nurse Jackie.
- Vanity was one of Prince’s most well known protégées, having appeared in the Prince-created girl group trio, the Vanity 6. After a falling out with Prince, Vanity was replaced by Apollonia in the movie Purple Rain. Vanity went on to appear in movies like Action Jackson.
- Apollonia was Prince’s co-star in Purple Rain and she worked with him for several years, signing the original vocals on Manic Monday, which was later recorded by The Bangles.
- Sheena Easton was a Scottish singer Prince took under his wing, and she appeared on hits like U Got the Look.
- Prince gave Janelle Monae the reigns for their collaboration Give Em What They Love in 2013. He asked her to be in control of the mixing, mastering and editing.