Three years ago yesterday, the legendary artist Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in his home – the prolific singer, songwriter and innovator was beloved for his varied and funky music, and extravagant stage presence. I admittedly, have never been the largest Prince fan. But in college, I was always impressed by his genuine talent – Prince (for the most part) wrote his own songs, played each instrument, and arranged all of his own music. At that time in my life, such independence and autonomy over music was rare, and it’s even sparser now.
Prince was born in 1958 in Minneapolis, and wrote his first song at just seven years old. His youth was largely spent recording songs with his cousin’s band, and he went on to make his first album at the age of 19. His next album went platinum and he became a legend thereafter – winning seven Grammies, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. His greatest asset was being able to shift from genre to genre, never letting any one of them define him, integrating funk, rock, R&B, soul, pop, and more. As then President Obama said in a statement after his death:
Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. “A strong spirit transcends rules,” Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative.
What I often find myself doing when a unique artist like Prince is recognized, is envisioning what that artist was like as a student. Who were his teachers? How did he grow up? What were his supports? If I had to guess, Prince was an unconventional child – he could have easily been discouraged from pursuing his dreams. But someone believed in him, and he was able to reach his full potential. He worked exceedingly hard at honing his skills, learning a variety of instruments, making sure each song arrangement was just right.
Each day, of each week, of each term in the school year, we welcome over 6,000 students through our primary school doors. Some of those students do exceedingly well in our schools. Some of those students work hard to develop their skills and improve. But each one of them has the potential to shine even brighter in their future academics, to invent, and to lead, if we give them the foundation they need to thrive. As we close our school doors for the first term of 2019, it’s important to remember the gravity of this responsibility.