Since Prince Rogers Nelson’s sudden passing on April 21, Black America has been drowning itself in classic and under-the-radar music, sexy photos and funny stories about His Purple Badness. We’ve also been comparing notes on who’s qualified to cover his eclectic music in a tribute versus who would “mess it up.” Culturally, we have this inexplicable connection to music and will explode if one of our heroes’ music is thrown to just anyone. He or she has to be just right, not too much, not too little.
Remember, this isn’t a guy who could sing the Happy Birthday Song “real good.” This is Prince. He embodied funk, soul, jazz, heavy metal and gospel in one 5’2 body. He could do it all. Besides playing nearly 30 instruments, his voice was an instrument ranging from high-pitched scream to a melodic tenor or bass. So who can come close to that? Who can do him justice?
While we were brainstorming, Billboard Music Awards producers moved a little quicker, and came up with Madonna. Yep, “Like a Virgin” Madonna. “Papa, Don’t Preach” Madonna. “Truth or Dare” Madonna. She will be the one to honor Prince during the Billboard Music Awards, which will air on Sunday, May 22.
She’s a legend in her own right and a good friend of Prince’s through the years. They wrote and recorded a song or two together, but who didn’t Prince work with? Their creativity, ability to recreate themselves and push the envelope in a straight-laced America are what they share, but not music.
As an 80s baby, she, her denim jackets and tulle headbands will likely always have a small place in my heart, and I consider “Take a Bow” one of her best songs (probably because it was written by Babyface). But still, NOPE. I can’t put her in the same category as Prince musically. And like Bey, I ain’t sorry.
Billboard, what you doing??? Where are the black people?
Whether I’m playing the race card depends on you. I don’t believe that only people of the same race can mourn, pay respects or sing songs of others. Music is life-changing because it’s universal. It’s just convenient that mainstream forgets the hearts and souls of a person when they make it to America’s main stage. Prince’s roots were so deep in Black music and live instrumentation by James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Jimi Hendrix, it seems odd to suggest an Italian woman perform his tribute on an awards show.
Don’t give in to the idea that Prince didn’t identify with Black folks because his love interests of darker hues were few. Make no mistake: He was black. Like, black-black (Have you seen his performance in Under the Cherry Moon?) The son of two African American parents (Purple Rain was loosely based on his life and a strategy to promote his mystique, hence interracial parents), he was always supporting his own and was vocal about our struggles and the need to have our own, mentoring young black artists under the radar. Here’s proof and more proof.
Where’s Rosie Gaines, Sheila E., Morris Day and the Time, Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu or D’Angelo? These artists have stood the test of time even as his music evolved beyond Purple Rain. Are they not good enough or did they forget the connection Prince had to us for the sake of their own agenda and ratings?
To pay tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson on any show without African-American presence is a slap in his face. I can only imagine the shady side-eyes he’s giving from heaven. Billboard gon’ Billboard though, and they care not about our petitions and public comment. This is why we have to create our own shit to honor our people in the way we and they would consider appropriate.
The good news is, he was so iconic, they’ll be tributes for months and years to come, but what a way to begin on the award show front. I don’t expect trash, but I also don’t expect to be wowed. BET and Soul Train Music Awards, make it right.