ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA – Thursday night’s sold-out Prince tribute at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota was a long time in the making, but worth the months-long wait. Performers included icons Morris Day and the Time, Stevie Wonder, and Chaka Khan; original Revolution band mate Andre Cymone, members of the NPG, and Prince’s last band, 3rdEyeGirl; soul singer/songwriter Bilal, who’d wowed with his sensual version of “The Beautiful Ones” during this year’s BET Awards Prince tribute; Tori Kelly, Jessie J., Mike Phillips, Doug E. Fresh, and Portuguese songstress Ana Moura, who was one of Prince’s favorite singers.
Noticeably missing from the line-up was The Revolution, who’d played 3 sold-out shows at the legendary First Avenue over Labor Day weekend. (Wendy and Lisa were unavailable due to their work on Jennifer Lopez show “Shades Of Blue,” and Sheila E. was playing an already scheduled gig in New York.) NPG keyboardist Morris Hayes served as musical director for this beautiful night.
The energy inside—and outside—the Xcel Energy Center was truly electric, as fans from all over came to celebrate the man whose music touched so many lives. The pre-show party featured merch booths overflowing with Prince t-shirts, as well as the unveiling of the Minnesota Wild jersey bearing Prince’s symbol. St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman officially declared October 13th Prince Day; Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges made the same proclamation later that night at the after party at First Avenue. The stage was finally set for what Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, called a “tribute for the fans.”
The Official Prince Tribute show ran a marathon 5 hours, and culling a handful of highlights from the night was no easy task. Nevertheless, here are the top 5 moments from the Prince tribute.
Morris Day Reminds Us What Time it Is
The fabled rivalry between The Revolution and The Time during the 1999 and Purple Rain tours is the stuff of legend, as The Revolution recently recounted on Questlove’s weekly Pandora radio show, Questlove Supreme. Still, Prince and Morris Day were childhood friends who also became musical cohorts, so it was only fitting that Morris Day and the Time—now featuring only three original members (Day, Jellybean Johnson, and Monte Moir) would bring the funk with their hits “The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” Morris and the guys headlined the afterparty at First Avenue, offering a longer set filled with favorites such as “Cool” and “The Walk.”
Bobby Z’s Walk Down Memory Lane
Revolution drummer Bobby Z emerged to represent the band that started it all, sharing his story of how he first met Prince in 1977 and was immediately captivated by this musical wunderkind who could play every instrument in the studio with such elegance and ease. Bobby talked about the awe he felt watching Prince go from instrument to instrument, musing, “They say DaVinci could paint with one hand and write a letter with the other. That was Prince.”
Judith Hill Takes Us to Purple Church
Prince took former Michael Jackson background vocalist-turned The Voice contestant and star of the documentary, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Judith Hill, under his wing just a couple of years ago, helping her produce and then preemptively leaking her debut album, Back in Time. Her stunning performance Thursday night was a reminder why two of the greatest artists of our time gave her their nod of approval. Hill began her set with a deeply moving, chills-inducing rendition of “The Cross,” reflecting Prince’s profound faith and spirituality. She ended it with the soul-filled “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?,” bringing the crowd to its feet.
Mayte and the Healing Power of Dance
Long before she was a member of the NPG or Prince’s first wife, Mayte Garcia was an accomplished belly dancer, having begun studying as a child and even appearing at the age of 7 on the TV show That’s Incredible. On Thursday night, the woman we’d watched shake that thang all over the stage behind Prince/The Artist Formerly Known As Prince throughout the ‘90s mesmerized the audience with a soulful traditional belly dance. The highlight of Mayte’s stunning performance, however, was the moment she placed a sword on her head and carefully—but expertly—shimmied her way down to the floor and back up. As her performance segued into the song “7,” the audience roared with excitement.
The Rain of Purple
No one was surprised that the tribute ended with “Purple Rain.” But rather than having a guest vocalist perform the song, they left it to the only one to truly do it justice. Pulling Prince’s live vocal from a concert performance, the band played along as the Purple Yoda sang us into the night. As the song came to an end, his iconic glyph illuminated the arena and a shower of purple confetti descended from the rafters. All of the night’s performers, including Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Jessie J., former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, and all of the musicians who made up the house band, along with members of Prince’s family, assembled on stage as the audience snapped photos, captured video of this moment, wiped tears, and finally, filed out into the crisp Minneapolis night.
Rhonda Nicole is a freelance music journalist and founder/editor-in-chief of RhondaNicole.com, a life-long (and seldom unbiased) Prince fan, and independent singer/songwriter. Follow her musical adventures around the globe on Instagram @BohemeRockstar.