Most relentless, most focused, the most driven
Part 1 in a series
By Al McFarlane, Editor In Chief –
I am interested in examining Prince’s life from my vantage point as a Black man. Where I stand as a neighbor, as a neighborhood business owner, as a journalist and communicator, as a cultural advocate, and as a seeker of our truth shapes my response to the news of Prince’s death and my deep appreciation of his life and legacy.
This commentary is personal. Not because I knew him…we exchanged words and glances on two specific occasions…but because I know. What I know is, in part, what he knew: our shared experiences as Black people, living in Minneapolis.
Prince rose in a windstorm and troubled everybody’s mind.
I remember first hearing Grand Central at the Northside Summer Fun Festival. Grand Central also regularly headlined Juneteenth and the Way’s Youth Appreciation Day events. Grand Central was the first group that Prince led when he emerged from the powerhouse R&B band called The Family. The Family was the brand ambassador for North Minneapolis youth and community service organization, The Way.
Spike Moss, Executive Director at The Way, recalled Prince’s uncanny dedication and single-mindedness when it came to music.
“Prince, Andre Cymone and Pierre Lewis were the youngest kids in the music program at The Way. I had reached out to Minnesota’s jazz masters, including the great Bobby Lyle, asking them to teach, nurture and shape the talent, and mold the gifts of music and art that were abundant in our community,” he said. Prince, Andre and Pierre Lewis were 7-, 8-year-old boys when they started on the path. Randy Barber and Sonny Thompson, who grew to become leaders of The Family, were 7th graders when they started music training at The Way.
“Remember, back then, you could go downtown and on Lake Street and hear Black music. But when you walked into the clubs, what you found was white bands performing Black music. Black musicians were not welcome.”
“We knew we had to create a space, a resource for our young and aspiring musicians. From this space, from The Way, Prince emerged as the most relentless, the most focused, the most driven to both develop music skills and reveal a world that existed in his mind,” Moss said.
But that world was shaped by community, Moss said. “So it is a mistake to think that the artist’s genius was the discovery of music business handlers, white promoters. Prince’s determination and the instruction-rich environment forged Prince. When they learned about him, he was already made…complete,” Moss said.
Part of the making of Prince was his deep friendship with fellow musician Andre (Cymone) Anderson. Unbeknownst to the child Prince and the child Andre, their dads, Fred Lewis Anderson and John Lewis Nelson whose stage name was Prince Rogers, both musicians, had been bandmates.
Patricia Anderson, following a broadcast interview on my KFAI “Conversations with Al McFarlane” program Tuesday, said “my sister Linda (Anderson) has the best memory. She told us she remembered Prince’s dad coming to our house. Our dad was a bass player. I remember his bass being behind the couch, and you’d better not touch it! I didn’t recall the two of them together in our home, but Linda did.”
Linda Anderson was a part of the Grand Central band that took to the stage for the Family Day event. She was the keyboard player. “She was a helluva drummer. She wanted to be a drummer,” Patricia Anderson said. “But Prince told her ‘We already have a drummer,’ and he put her on keyboards.
He taught her keyboards.” Their brother Andre Cymone, Prince’s best friend, was the bass player. It was Andre who brought Prince into the Anderson household, almost like another son or nephew to mom, Bernadette Anderson.
Bernadette Anderson was one of the godmothers of Minnesota’s Black Consciousness movement. She fought white supremacy and racism like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and she demanded that everyone around her stand and fight as well.
“My mom and Prince went back and forth with what she felt he should get from negotiating contracts with the industry,” recalled Patricia Anderson.
“She always instilled in Prince, and in us, that fighting spirit. ‘Stand up. Know absolutely what you need from something and never compromise your integrity or your dignity. Be respectful,’ she would say.”
Patricia Anderson said her brother Eddie Anderson and businessman John Jefferson both advised and influenced Prince. She said Eddie told Prince, “they are offering you carrots but you will not get anywhere near the money that you will actually make for them.” She said Prince took to heart Eddie’s advice: “Don’t apologize for standing up for yourself.”
Moss said, “When the country accepted Prince, it was too late for Minnesota. What took him to another level was not only his appearance on “American Bandstand” but more importantly, his appearances on “SoulTrain.” Now the Black world could know his music. It took us to another level. And it forced Minnesota to finally deal with us as musicians and stop denying us.
“We had the talent. So we helped ourselves. And we built this empire,” said Moss.
“We want to do a memorial. We want all the guys who did all the Northside Summer Fun Festival shows to come back home and do a big tribute to Prince and to themselves…maybe down by Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. We want to go back down there, have our own reunion and give it to the world again,” he said.