Prince Rogers Nelson, the genre-bending musical genius and visionary, sadly passed away recently, on April 21, 2016 at the all too-young age of 57.
He was a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actor, and was a musical innovator known for his eclectic work. His music integrated a wide variety of styles, including funk, rock, R&B, soul, psychedelia, and pop, and sold over 100 million records worldwide, which made him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award for the film Purple Rain.
Critics compared Prince with jazz great Miles Davis in regard to the artistic changes throughout his career; Davis himself regarded Prince as an otherworldly blend of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Little Richard, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Chaplin.
Prince also had his hands in the social and political realm. He partnered up with the noted political and environmental activist Van Jones on a number of projects: Prince conceived and launched YesWeCode, an initiative aiming to teach 100,000 low-income kids to write code, and helped fund Green for All, an organization co-founded by Van Jones, whose stated goal is to build a green economy while simultaneously lifting citizens out of poverty.
Prince also supported Van Jones’ advocacy project called Rebuild The Dream, which aimed to “give the progressive mass movement that rose up to elect Barack Obama a new banner to march under.” In August 2012 Prince announced a series of concerts in Chicago to support Rebuild the Dream, and Prince went on The View with Van Jones and Rosario Dawson to promote the concerts.
In other words, Prince was a visionary, along with being a musical genius. He was born to musician parents, so it might be that Prince was born with the gift of music. But Prince also had a vision of the world in which he understood that there are no limitations or boundaries.
As Prince himself said, “A strong spirit transcends rules.”
At one time, Prince’s band was called Prince and the Revolution. And indeed, that attitude, that a strong spirit transcends rules, is not only revolutionary in nature, but is the Revolution that is blowing the winds of positive change in our society and world, and moving our world towards an open culture and one that is more holistic, sustainable and enlightened.
Prince had a strong spirit and broke the rules by being such a holistic and integrative thinker – a polymath – by virtue of his crossing boundaries and defying genres with his music, and with his social initiatives.
The truth is, though, that we are all strong spirits and we all can transcend rules. Obviously, there are certain societal rules that are in place that we must adhere to, rules that relate to proper behavior and ways to carry yourself, rules that mandate that it is never right to do harm to others or yourself, that it is never right to steal from others, and so on.
But then there are other rules that are artifices, in place due to peer pressure and tribal behavior patterns that carry the expectation to conform to the norm. These rules stifle innovation in the name of not rocking the boat.
Yet, all the great innovations and ideas and new ways of doing things have been created by people who transcended rules. It was George Bernard Shaw who said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Gordon Parks was another example of someone who transcended the rules. When he died in 2006 at the age of 94, he had a long list of accomplishments: photographer, musician, composer, journalist, novelist, nonfiction author, screenwriter, film director, choreographer, and political, cultural and social activist. Gordon Parks lived a full and rich life and did many varied and incredible things that enriched the lives of countless people.
The thing about Parks was that he had severe impediments to overcome. He was born into a poor black family in a segregated small town in Kansas, and was the youngest of fifteen children.