Prince's female protégés: Remembering the icon's legacy
The late icon was known for supporting fellow artists
Prince had long been a vocal supporter of female artists and always championed them in the press and through his music. Whether he was producing albums for Vanity, encouraging Alicia Keys behind the scenes, or praising Sheila E’s drumming, he was a rare breed of artist who lifted his peers up. Remembering Prince, who died April 21 at his home in Paisley Park, Minnesota, through the artists he mentored, groomed, and loved is as telling as through his own discography.
Keys’ working relationship with Prince began in 2001 when she covered “How Come U Don’t Call Me” on her debut album Songs in A Minor. During a performance at the Tribeca Film Festival this week she told the crowd that they spoke on the phone during the beginning stages of her career. “I was scared,” she said. “He was a very cool dude — the swaggiest there ever was.” So in 2004, Alicia Keys inducted Prince into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a touching speech about his impact on music and her life, and after his death she remembered him as “the only person who can keep chains around us and box us up is ourselves. … I’m that much more free because of Prince.”
Wendy and Lisa
Lisa Coleman became Prince and the Revolution’s keyboardist in 1980, and Wendy Melvin joined on guitar three years later. They worked on some of Prince’s best work including Purple Rain. Since then, Wendy and Lisa became a duo de force when they broke out on their own with a debut album in 1987. They scored an Emmy for their work on Nurse Jackie‘s theme song and also wrote for TV shows Heroes and Crossing Jordan. “I’m completely shocked and devastated by the sudden loss of our brother, artist and friend, Prince,” Coleman posted on their joint Facebook page after his death. “Thank you to all the fans and supporters for your endless love, and for making such big dreams come true. We offer our love, support, and condolences to our extended family, friends and all fans of our sweet Prince.”
Sheila Escovedo performed with Prince for much of his career, best known as his drummer for tours for Purple Rain and Sign O’ the Times and serving as his musical director. He also produced her debut album The Glamorous Life in 1984. “We pushed each other in many areas, whether it be who dressed the best, whether it be who was going to beat each other at ping-pong or pool,” she told EW in an interview on Friday. They parted ways professionally in 1989 at the end of the LoveSexy tour, but they stayed close and performed together in the years since. “The way that he could flip a song and talk about something so sexual that you weren’t even sure if that’s what he was talking about — because the music was so funky,” she said.
The Scottish singer worked with Prince on some of his most beloved tracks like “U Got the Look” and “The Arms of Orion,” from the Batman soundtrack. He also penned tracks like “Sugar Wells” for her using a pseudonym, and appeared as a producer on her 1988 album The Lover in Me. “The world of music was forever changed the day he picked up his guitar,” she said in a statement to People after Prince’s death. “His talent was breathtaking, his heart was kind, and all of us have been blessed to have had a glimpse into this sweet and magical soul.”
Best known as the co-star in Prince’s 1984 film Purple Rain, Apollonia landed the role after Vanity (Denise Matthews) left the film. As such, the girl group featured was renamed Apollonia 6 and Apollonia performed on the original recording of “Manic Monday,” which would go on to be a hit with the Bangles in 1986. She also contributed vocals to Prince’s other songs like “Take Me With U.” Though their friendship had rumors of romance, she told Oprah’s Where Are They Now?, “He was not my boyfriend, but he’s my greatest friend.”
Támar is best known for contributing vocals to Prince’s 2006 album 3121, on which she sang co-lead vocals for the Grammy-nominated track “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed.” He also supported what was supposed to be her debut album Milk & Honey. (The collection was never released.) Following their professional split in 2007, she told Billboard, “It does hurt that I don’t get to perform as much with him. But if I stay under his wing, I can’t fly. And I’m ready to fly.”
Denise “Vanity” Matthews, who died earlier this year, was one of Prince’s best known protégées and was the lead singer of the Prince-created trio Vanity 6, which was featured on his 1999 album tour. After Prince learned of her death, he performed “Little Red Corvette” in her honor at a Melbourne concert and told the crowd, “Her and I used to love each other deeply. She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be.”
Tara Leigh Patrick became Carmen Electra when she signed a record contract with Prince, who gave her a new name. Together, they recorded 1992’s “Go Go Dancer.” “You’re not a Tara. You’re not Tara. You’re Carmen,” he told her, she said. After his death, she told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, “He gave me my name, he believed in me, and he has inspired an entire generation. I will always love him.”
Diamond and Pearl
Diamond and Pearl (a.k.a. Lori Wener and Robia LaMorte) became Prince’s backup dancers during Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls era, named for the 1991 album, which featured songs like “Gett Off” and “Cream.” Both women appeared on the album’s music videos, danced on tour, and are featured on the collection’s holographic cover.
Hill appeared as a contestant on The Voice in 2013 and was also heavily featured in the critically acclaimed documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (she had also been chosen to do a duet with Michael Jackson for This Is It before his death), but she began working with Prince just last year. She recorded her 2015 album Back in Time at Paisley Park in only a few weeks. After collaborating, she told Billboard, “He challenges me to be my best. I like that challenge, because with him, it’s do-or-die on that stage. I think that I’ve really been challenged to step it up, and I’m happy for that extra push.”
His most recent band, 3rdeyegirl, made their debut on Prince’s Plectrumelectrum in 2014, when he returned to Warner Bros. Records. Consisting of drummer Hannah Welton, guitarist Donna Grantis, and bassist Ida Kristine Nielsen, the band also worked on his most recent collection, 2015’s HITNRUN, for which they toured last year. In July 2015, the band told BBC 6 Music that Prince had more music on the way. Of the collection they said, “It’s phenomenal, there are so many hits on this album. It’s super experimental.”
As one of Prince’s most recent mentees, Monae produced their duet “Givin Em What They Love” in 2013. After the collab, she told Marie Claire, “I’m still pinching myself in disbelief. [Prince] doesn’t do a lot of collaborations, let alone let people produce him. But he wanted me to be in control of the mixing and mastering and editing. The trust he’s given me means a lot.” She’s called him “my musical hero” and told Essence in 2014, “Growing up, I always admired how he handled the business and gave other artists an opportunity to shine, and when he puts his stamp on someone it’s a special thing. He’s been in the industry for a really long time, he’s smart, and he’s constantly reinventing himself. I just hope when I reach that many years in the game I can still be as passionate as he and as giving to new artists as he is.”
The inspiration behind Prince’s hit “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” also became his wife in 1996. That same year they lost a son Gregory a week after he was born to a rare genetic disorder, Pfeiffer syndrome. Though they divorced in 2000, Prince had produced an album for Garcia, who got her start as a dancer on one of his tours. “This man was my everything, we had a family. I am beyond deeply saddened and devastated,” she told People after hearing about his death. “I loved him then, I love him now and will love him eternally. He’s with our son now.”
Now an urban farming advocate in Detroit, Sevelle joined Paisley Park in 1992 when she released “Love is Contagious.” “Prince was brilliant, not just musically but intellectually,” she told Fox 2 News in Detroit after his death. “He was just so far ahead of his time. He had a huge heart. He launched my career. He gave me freedom when he was not giving artists freedom and let me release ‘Love is Contagious,’ which is a song I wrote by myself and I think it was the first time he had done that with an artist.”
Born in Prince’s hometown Minneapolis, Valente first met Prince when she was 17 while working with keyboardist Morris Hayes at Prince’s Paisley Park. When asked what it was liked to be introduced to the music world by Prince, she told Tavis Smiley, “It’s a privilege and it’s a blessing.” She worked on his 2007 album Planet Earth, and he played guitar on and produced her 2009 album Elixer, which was part of Prince’s three-album set that also included LOtUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND.