Prince

Prince is one of contemporary music's most prolific and talented artists. In addition to creating his own varied and often multi-disc albums, he often has contributed to the work of others, including Chaka Khan, Larry Graham, Madonna, the Bangles and Sheena Easton.

He was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis. The jazz pianist John Nelson named his son after his band, the Prince Rogers Trio.

Prince taught himself piano as a child, performed as an amateur and became a fan of James Brown's music and style. After running away from his stepfather, Prince joined Grand Central — who later became Champagne — a band that featured fellow Minnesotan Morris Day. Skilled at playing drums, bass and saxophone, Prince became the band's leader and steadily began to compose songs.

By the time he graduated from high school, Prince had started the funk/pop Minneapolis sound, a.k.a. Uptown, and fronted the band Flyte Time, featuring future star R&B record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, which evolved into The Time.

On his 1978 solo debut, For You, Prince wrote, sang and produced most of the synthesizer-heavy songs, and the album dented the U.S. charts. In 1979 he released a self-titled offering that went platinum and spawned the #1 R&B hit "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (RealAudio excerpt). The song eventually crossed over to U.S. and UK pop charts, and Prince's star began to ascend rapidly. He hit a minor snag on the road to superstardom when the critically acclaimed Dirty Mind (1980) turned some people off with its highly sexual imagery on tracks such as "Head." The album didn't yield any pop hits.

But Prince continued to perform a sexually suggestive live act and named his next album, 1981's Controversy, after his troubles. The first watershed in his career came in 1982 with the double-disc 1999. The album was a masterful mix of funk, soul, dance, folk and heavy rock, and it was full of contagious tunes. It was rapturously received by critics and stayed on the Billboard 200 albums chart for more than two years. "Little Red Corvette," "1999" and "Delirious" were all hits.

With the release of the film "Purple Rain" and the 1984 album of the same title, Prince vaulted to superstardom. On the LP, Prince combined his Minneapolis funk with elements of classic rock and mainstream pop and the public ate it up. The first single, "When Doves Cry," an infectious slice of funk, topped the chart for weeks and made Prince a household name. Propelled by other hits, such as "Let's Go Crazy" and the grandiose title track, Purple Rain sold 10 million copies in America.

Around the World in a Day (1985) emphasized psychedelic pop. The next year, the artsy Parade spawned the hit single "Kiss," which later was covered by British crooner Tom Jones (who also is celebrating a birthday today).

But Prince began to lose much of the mainstream audience as the decade came to a close. Following the release of the acclaimed Sign 'O' the Times in 1987, he grew restless with the regimented music business, and his succeeding records seemed designed mostly to fit his ever-changing mood. He did soundtrack work for the first Tim Burton-directed "Batman" film and recorded a dark and lascivious funk record, dubbed The Black Album, which wasn't officially released until years later.

After the breakup of his backing band, the Revolution, Prince recharged his creative batteries by recording with a new lineup of musicians, the New Power Generation. Formed in 1991, this group was a large and talented combo, similar to the multiracial Sly and the Family Stone, another of Prince's big influences. The first Prince album with NPG, Diamonds and Pearls (1991), was a big hit and spawned such successful singles as "Get Off" and "Cream."

Another album was released in 1992, this one titled with a strange, unpronounceable symbol that Prince subsequently adopted as his name (which he legally changed in 1993). Soon, he was being referred to as "ex-Prince," then The Artist Formerly Known As Prince or just The Artist. Prince continued to release new albums, but eventually he ended his unhappy relationship with Warner Bros. Records, his final album for the label being 1996's Chaos & Disorder.

Prince formed his own label, NPG, and released the three-disc set Emancipation in 1996. Two years later, he released another multi-CD set, Crystal Ball — featuring such songs as "Last Heart."

Last year came Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, featuring "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" (RealAudio excerpt).

Other birthdays Wednesday: Tom Jones, 60; Jack Ryland (Three Dog Night), 51; Johnny Clegg, 47; Antonio "L.A." Reid, 44; Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout), 43; Ecstasy (Whodini), 36; Eric Kretz (Stone Temple Pilots/Talk Show), 34; Dave Navarro, 32; and Dean Martin, 1917–1995.