To make purple, you need blue: Prince as embodiment of the postmodern blues aesthetic

Attah, Tom (2020) To make purple, you need blue: Prince as embodiment of the postmodern blues aesthetic. In: Prince and Popular Music Critical Perspectives on an Interdisciplinary Life. Bloomsbury Academic, London. ISBN 9781501354656

Abstract

As part of his ground-breaking work as a stylistic provocateur during the 1980s and 1990s, blues music and blues culture provided a fundamental element of Prince’s composition, production and live performance practice. This chapter constructs a continuum of blues music performance including Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, positioning Prince as a performer in full command of the aesthetic qualities that characterise African-American music-making with specific reference to the stylistic gestures particular to the blues. This chapter does not attempt to delimit and collapse Prince’s activity into a single style or genre of practice, or to disregard his wider contribution to popular music. Neither is this an attempt to claim Prince purely as a bluesman – although the figure of the bluesman is one of great complexity in cultural studies. This is not a reductive polemic. The intention is to deconstruct several key performances and rehabilitate the artist’s practice as part of the ongoing continuum of the blues aesthetic. With this in mind, the chapter discusses definitions of the blues aesthetic, blues music and blues performers. The chapter looks at several musical examples in pursuit of musical and stylistic analysis before the presentation of conclusions. Specifically, the chapter discusses a live performance of ‘If I Had A Harem’ (1988), additionally, recordings of ‘Zannalee’ (1993) and ‘The Truth’ (1996), offers a comparative analysis between Prince’s ‘5 Women’ (1999a) and B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ (1969); Prince’s ‘The Ride’ (1993), and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hear My Train A-Comin’’ (1967a); and finally Prince’s ‘Purple House’ (1999b) is compared to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Red House’ (1967b). There are additional references to other Prince songs which contain strongly indicative blues material such as ‘The Question of U’ (1990).

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