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D.C. Musicians Remember Prince

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Prince, the enigmatic icon who brought the world “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette” and scores of other pop masterpieces, tragically passed away yesterday at the age of 57 in his compound outside Minneapolis, Minnesota.

His life started and ended in the Midwest, but his legacy is global. Prince had an ability to create music that was simultaneously immensely fun and deeply moving. His sometimes-controversial lyrics broke barriers and his innovative guitar techniques broke new ground.

As such, it’s no surprise that musicians all over the world are in mourning, including here in D.C. To get a sense of Prince’s impact on D.C., we reached out to a few local musicians to hear their reactions to the loss of the American superstar. Though these artists create music that is wildly different from each others’, they all share a common love and respect for Prince — a testament to the wide reach of his impact across genres.

The timelessness of Prince’s music lends itself to be passed down from one generation to the next. Alex Tebeleff, a singer and guitarist in D.C.’s psychedelic rock band Paperhaus, observed how music teachers can transmit their love for Prince to their students:

“My guitar teacher growing up in the D.C. suburbs was from Ethiopia but landed in America right in the middle of the Minneapolis funk scene in the 1980s. I don’t think I fully appreciated all the music from Prince he taught me back then, but as I got older his music continued to have a bigger and bigger influence on me. Once I got into the Sign o’ the Times album in college it was all over!” Tebeleff said of Prince’s ninth studio album. “I would argue that’s his greatest creative achievement, but I would also consider Purple Rain from beginning to end the greatest pop full-length record ever. Later on he was a big reason I became interested in synthesizers, and as someone who grew up playing funk, it’s clear to me now that he was truly the king of it, and much more as well.”

Prince’s artistic integrity also struck a profound chord with musicians. “Prince reinvented himself many times, and remained relevant from the 1970s to now,” said Carolyn Malachi, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and D.C. native. “While he was mysterious, his catalog clearly exemplifies the value of authenticity, which is the foundation of my own creative process.”

Others found inspiration in the radical ways that Prince challenged society while still managing to find success in the music industry. For Grammy-nominated artist, producer and emcee Kokayi, Prince struck an expert balance between artist and entrepreneur. “Prince to me was the blueprint,” Kokayi said, “the ultimate musician who understood both the music business and the business of music, and he passed that on to the talents that were up-and-coming. An accomplished, multi-instrumentalist and a hell of a writer. The other five-foot freak (god bless Phife) that made androgyny his play thing while redefining cool. More pseudonyms than Kool Keith, bigger and better hair than hair bands, played like Jimi, and would saaaang like Mariah and Barry White…on the same song. He invented text language before 140 characters were the limit. Prince was limitless. An only.”

Prince undoubtedly shook the foundations of pop in a way that reverberated through all aspects of culture. According to Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson from the legendary D.C. go-go band Rare Essence, it will take some time to fully recognize the immense influence that he had.

“Everyone knows what a tremendously talented guy he was and how his music, style and influence will live on for generations to come. But I’m not sure that the magnitude of the loss we suffered [yesterday] will sink in for years. The phrase “musical genius” doesn’t seem like it’s big enough to describe what he meant to the world of music. It’s extremely difficult to be a truly original artist, which he was while shaping the sound for an entire decade (the new wave sound of 1980s) and managed to do it with a style of his own. He was one (of a VERY FEW) to earn the title of GREATNESS and he wore it well. Rest in Peace to His Royal Badness, PRINCE.”