WE SING THE FAMILY PRINCE
SHERYL J. BIZE-BOUTTE
Like many baby boomers, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The whistle blew in the junior high school cafetorium with an unprecedented harshness that day in 1963 and stunned us all into unified silence. Then the principal appeared, and standing in front of the curtains on the stage shakily announced,
“Children, I am sorry to have to tell you that President Kennedy has been killed.”
A slow moan enveloped the room. Because our pre-teen heads were unable to fully process what we had just heard, we sat there for a few minutes in silence. Then as if controlled by some outside force we all began to cry, rise and run for the exits. We splintered off in different directions, confused and afraid. Since I only lived a block away, I went home and turned on the television to watch it all unfold.
Many years later, I would hear another voice making an announcement and remember where I was when I heard it. But this time it would make us happy. Mom and I had just gotten into her green Chevy “Big Rider” Impala to go shopping. As we rode down the hill toward the freeway entrance, I turned on the radio. The D. J. on KSOL was talking about a new singer. Suddenly the opening guitar strums from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” filled the car interior. Mom turned it up. The youthful male voice sang out, “ I ain’t got no money. I’m not like the other guys you hang around.” Oh my my my . We looked at each other and said in unison, “Who is that?” We had already heard enough to know that whoever he was, we liked what we were hearing and he was right on time.
Now at the bottom of the hill, instead of making the left to the freeway, Mom made a right at the corner. Then the unique and funky guitar rift came in between, “It’s kinda funny, but they always seem to let you down,” as he crooned on. More of that guitar. Oooo-weee and bop bop. “I wanna be the one that makes you come running”, he sang. We would have been running if we had not been in the car, so instead we smoothly rode, swooned and rocked all the way to Reid’s Records on Bancroft Avenue.
We still didn’t know the name of the artist when we got to the counter at Reid’s, but we had been so struck by what we had just heard, I was able to sing a few lines. The good people at Reid’s knew right away who it was and handed us a vinyl album with this longhaired, shirtless, beautiful young man on the cover with one name: Prince.
“Two, please,” I said, and shopping forgotten we got back in to the green “Big Rider” and headed back to Mom’s to play this new miracle of music.
Over the years, my family and I would add everything Prince to our collection of his masterful work. He would become a part of our family life. And as a family member, he would often weave his way into my writing. In my unpublished short story “Nick at Night Before Christmas” I write,
We grew to seven women, three generations, drinking eggnog and dancing to Chubby Checker, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips and finally Prince. We wore a thin white groove into the vinyl version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” playing it constantly over the objections of my secular music-hating grandmother. Every now and then we would catch her tapping her foot, ever so slightly.
And in my essay, “A Mother’s Love,” about the history of the city of Oakland, I call on him again with,
I am the origin of the “West Coast Blues”, the Mai Tai cocktail and Rocky Road Ice Cream. One of my sons invented the Popsicle and one of my daughters was lost to me when she took her famous solo flight from my airport. A man who usually prefers purple once bought another of my daughters a turquoise Mercedes.
For us, Prince became, and remains, a precious familial connection
for my sister who shares his birth-date and year and had just seen him perform on March 4, 2016 in Oakland;
for my husband who suddenly stopped dancing with the rest of us at a Prince concert and when I asked what was wrong he replied,
“Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. I just had to stop and take in the fact that I am actually in the presence of this gifted and wonderful soul;”
for my daughter, who writes,
“The loss of Prince is tough to explain to people who do not have the generational appreciation of his art as we do. I can still feel the bass of his music pulsating from the hi-fi, and I vividly remember the dance I did to “When Doves Cry” with my girl cousins that made the boys giggle. I see us singing along with Prince in every car we have owned over many, many years, while some stared but most rolled down windows to join in. I see Prince. I see us.”
Prince is the purple silken thread in the rainbow of our life tapestry, helping to meld it together with grace, lyric and memories.
We were blessed to see him perform in concert several times, the last time from floor seats only twelve feet away. He kept us in awe. We couldn’t wait to see what he would do next. And whatever he did, we had to have, to touch, to hear, to experience.
In 2009, I started my consulting business in one of our “empty nester” bedrooms. Without even consciously making the connection, I painted the walls soft lavender. Vases, flowers, picture frames; all purple. The first picture I hung on the wall was of Prince sitting on that motorcycle from the movie “Purple Rain.” When I look up at him, our eyes seem to meet. From his perch above my desk, he has watched me write for the last several years and is my inspiration for remaining an independent writer.
On April 21, 2016, as I sat down to write with the “Price is Right” ding dinging on the TV in the background, the always scary program interruption came on announcing that Prince had died.
I screamed again.
And when I finally stopped, my comfort granting muse took me back to my junior high school cafetorium. Only this time when I left to walk home, the now purple “Big Rider” was waiting for me with engine running and radio blasting “Affirmation” in three.
I could see myself leaning back into the soft leather passenger seat in a car filled with family as we made our way to Reid’s Records, the place where we would first meet our Prince and be anointed by his gift of love and music eternal.
And so as we walk
in the “Purple Rain”
or the April snow,
for “A Million Days”
and a million more,
we will sing the family Prince.
Copyright © 2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte