Prince’s ability to play multiple instruments was widely noted, but the source of his genius may be less well known. Alongside a musician father and natural talent, Prince also had access, at the time, to an unusually advanced music curriculum in his hometown of Minneapolis. Talented, low-income students like Prince needed good teachers, then and now.

The activist Prince

After signing a huge record deal with Warner Bros in the early 1990s, a subsequent row over ownership of master tapes became a bigger battle against the way the music industry was changing—and the diminishing position, as Prince saw it, of the person doing the most work: the artist. The current pushback by some musicians against Spotify’s business model, for example, arguably has its roots in Prince’s activism.

Prince eventually secured his tapes a few years before he died in 2016. By then, he was campaigning against music streaming platforms. “The internet’s completely over,” he said in 2010. “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else.”

For Prince, the internet and digital technology weren’t the problem. He had, after all, won a Webby lifetime achievement award in 2006 for having “forever altered the landscape of online musical distribution” with the NPG Music Club, an early platform where he sold his own records as MP3 downloads, in an attempt to bypass the established labels. The issue, instead, was with those making the business decisions, whether it was Steve Jobs, or the local school district four decades earlier.

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