The Sounds of Black Music: There Are Many Kings, But Only One Prince

By A.J. Muhammad, Librarian III
June 1, 2021
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Prince on the covers of Right On! (August 1980), Ebony (June 1985) and Essence (June 2014) magazines.

Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

June is designated as Black Music Month (also called African American Music Appreciation Month) and we’re kicking off our celebration by spotlighting various resources in the collection that researchers may dive into to learn more about artists and music genres. We begin our exploration with Prince, a Minnesota-born artist whose birthday is June 7, 1958, and whose music provided the soundtrack to the lives of many. 

Prince stood in the lineage of iconic Black rock and roll, funk, and soul music artists from an earlier generation including Little Richard, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, and Sly Stone, and he created a sound that was all his own. True to the title of his 1981 album, Controversy, Prince pushed the boundaries with provocative lyrical content on topics that ranged from sexuality, politics, and religion—sometimes all in the same song. He disrupted notions of masculinity and gender through his imagery and self-stylings. 

Not only did Prince gain attention for his art, he also caused a stir when he battled with Warner Brothers, the record label that distributed his albums, for control of his master recordings. By doing so, Prince brought attention to inequitable practices in the music industry that tend to benefit the music labels over artists. He would also use his platform to advocate for social justice causes and victims of police brutality.

Prince’s passing at the age of 57 in 2016 stunned the world, but he left an incredible legacy and recorded troves of music beginning with his debut studio album, For You, in 1978 that still brings joy to listeners and fans. Since 2016, books about Prince, including The Beautiful Ones an autobiography that Prince was working on prior to his death, continue to be released. Mr. Nelson On the North Side, a documentary film about Prince’s formative years in Minneapolis’s Northside district, was released this year. These offerings, including symposiums dedicated to Prince, give fans and scholars a glimpse into Prince’s creative genius and explore his work in detail. This growing body of work about Prince reminds us of the influence that he has had on global culture and other artists who have been inspired by him. 

Below, we are highlighting some of the recent titles on Prince and resources about notable artists in the Prince universe including Sheila E., Morris Day of the band The Time, and producer/composer James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III. Before Sheila E. teamed up with Prince, she was an established musician and performer from the Latin jazz world and Prince helped catapult her to pop stardom when he produced her album as a solo artist in 1984—the same year that Prince’s film Purple Rain and its soundtrack dominated pop culture. Morris Day, Prince, and Jimmy Jam were all peers from the Minneapolis music scene as young adults. Jimmy Jam gained notoriety for being one half of the award-winning producing team along with Terry Lewis that produced a string of hits for other music artists that dominated the radio airwaves in the 1980s and onward. 

What are some of your favorite songs, music videos, magazine articles, or books about Prince? Share them as we remember Prince on the anniversary of his birthday.

The Sounds of Black Music is a blog series featuring resources on music genres and influential artists from across the African Diaspora. This series is written and curated by Tracy Crawford and A.J. Muhammad.

More from The Sounds of Black Music: 

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.