Prince was remembered as an ingenious artist and closet humanitarian, but mostly as the provider of decades of joy as artists on Thursday flocked to his native Minnesota for his sole public memorial.
The long-planned concert, taking place nearly six months after Prince’s sudden death from an accidental painkiller overdose, opened unexpectedly with a tribute from US President Barack Obama.
“Thank you, Prince, for all the great works you have done. You will be in our hearts forever,” Obama, a fan of the Purple One, who the president invited to play at the White House, said in a brief video message.
Staying true to Prince’s legacy of infectious funk music, the concert spent little time on tearful remembrances.
Instead, a parade of singers close to Prince took turns on his hits before a purple sea of 20,000 dancing fans at the XCel Energy Center in Minnesota’s capital, Saint Paul.
As Chaka Khan, who revived her career as the queen of funk with an assist from Prince, sang her signature song I Feel For You, she brought to the stage soul legend Stevie Wonder, who accompanied on harmonica.
Wonder, whom Prince cited as a role model, sported a purple shirt under his suit as he joined Khan on another feel-good anthem, 1999.
Setting the joyous tone, Prince’s ex-wife choreographer Mayte Garcia came out in a leopard-print dress and matching bikini top, performing an elegant belly dance in which she balanced a sword on her head.
The Middle Eastern beat morphed into Prince’s song 7. Garcia did not address the crowd, letting her feelings be known with a beaming smile instead.
Delighting an audience made up mostly of local fans, the concert opened with Morris Day, Prince’s childhood friend in Minneapolis who played his rival in the classic 1984 film Purple Rain.
Day led his band The Time in funky tracks, including his best-known Jungle Love, which Prince cowrote under a pseudonym.
Prince spent his life around his hometown Minneapolis, which is adjacent to Saint Paul, with his funk style becoming known as the “Minneapolis Sound.”
He died on April 21 at his suburban Paisley Park compound, which last week opened up to tourists for the first time as his estate seeks to ensure financial stability.
Prince’s reciprocated hometown love stands in contrast to that of another Minnesota-born great, Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday and rarely returns to his birthplace.
With Prince’s body cremated, his tribute also marks a difference from Michael Jackson, often considered his rival in the 1980s, whose star-studded memorial service in 2009 saw his gold-plated coffin carried into a Los Angeles arena.
Video testimonials said Prince was active in charity anonymously, despite his image as a recluse.
Van Jones, a former adviser to Obama, said fans would be stunned to know the number of projects secretly funded by the musician, who had turned to Jones for logistical help.
“I don’t think Prince wanted to save the world. I think what Prince wanted to do is make sure that people’s gifts ... had a chance to sing,” he said in a video.
Geoffrey Canada said Prince had quietly given US$1 million to his Harlem Children’s Zone, which educates poor children in New York.
Singers Luke James and Bilal pulled off Prince’s most inimitable trait — his powerful falsetto — with James bringing in the Purple One’s sex appeal to Do Me, Baby.
Ana Moura, a Portuguese singer Prince championed, transitioned from her own songs into Little Red Corvette, adding a touch of her fado genre’s mournfulness.
In one of the more somber moments, Judith Hill — the last in a long line of Prince proteges — sang The Cross from his 1987 album Sign o’ the Times, one of his more overtly religious tracks.
Prince was active in the Jehovah’s Witnesses late in his life, but also had an idiosyncratic sense of faith, with his songs often merging faith and sexuality.
In one video, Prince said he believed that faith should not be “based on fear” of committing misdeeds.
“I pray every night, and I don’t say much. I just say thank you,” he said.
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