Celebrating Prince

Queen of funk Chaka Khan performed at the tribute to Prince with soul legend Stevie Wonder. Prince's ex-wife, choreographer Mayte Garcia, did an elegant belly-dance.
Queen of funk Chaka Khan performed at the tribute to Prince with soul legend Stevie Wonder.PHOTO: REUTERS
Queen of funk Chaka Khan performed at the tribute to Prince with soul legend Stevie Wonder. Prince's ex-wife, choreographer Mayte Garcia, did an elegant belly-dance.
Prince's ex-wife, choreographer Mayte Garcia, did an elegant belly-dance.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAINT PAUL • Prince was remembered as an ingenious artist and closet humanitarian, but mostly as the provider of decades of joy as artists flocked to his native Minnesota for his sole public memorial on Thursday.

Coming nearly six months after his death at age 57, it opened unexpectedly with a tribute from United States President Barack Obama. "Thank you, Prince, for all the great works you have done. You will be in our hearts forever," the fan of the Purple One said in a video.

Staying true to Prince's legacy of infectious funk music, the concert spent little time on tearful remembrances.

Instead, a parade of singers close to him took turns on his hits before a purple sea of 20,000 dancing fans at the XCel Energy Arena in Minnesota's capital of Saint Paul.

As Chaka Khan, who revived her career as the queen of funk with help from Prince, sang her signature song I Feel For You, she brought to the stage soul legend Stevie Wonder, who accompanied her on harmonica.

Wonder, whom Prince cited as a role model, sported a purple shirt under his suit as he joined Khan on another feel-good anthem, 1999.

Setting the joyous tone, Prince's former wife, choreographer Mayte Garcia, performed an elegant belly- dance in which she balanced a sword on her head. The Middle Eastern beat morphed into Prince's 7.

The concert opened with Morris Day, Prince's childhood friend in Minneapolis who played his rival in the classic 1984 film Purple Rain. Day led his band The Time in funky tracks including his best-known, Jungle Love, which Prince co-wrote under a pseudonym.

Prince spent his life around his hometown Minneapolis, which is adjacent to Saint Paul, with his funk style becoming known as the "Minneapolis Sound".

Video testimonials said Prince was active in charity anonymously despite his image as a recluse.

Mr Van Jones, a close friend of his and a former adviser to Mr Obama, said fans would be stunned to know the number of projects secretly funded by the musician, who had turned to him for logistical help.

Mr Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children's Zone, which educates poor children in New York, said Prince had quietly given US$1 million to the non-profit organisation.

Singers Luke James and Bilal pulled off Prince's most inimitable trait - his powerful falsetto - with James bringing in Prince's sex appeal to Do Me, Baby.

Ana Moura, the Portuguese singer Prince championed, transitioned from her own songs into Little Red Corvette, adding a touch of her fado genre's mournfulness.

In a more sombre moment, Judith Hill - the last in a long line of Prince protegees - sang The Cross from his 1987 album Sign O' The Times, one of his more overtly religious tracks.

"I know Prince is alive and well and he is happy right now," she said.

Prince was active in the Jehovah's Witnesses late in his life, but also had an idiosyncratic sense of faith, with his songs often merging faith and sexuality.

In one video shown at the concert, Prince said he believed faith should not be "based on fear" of committing misdeeds.

"I pray every night," he said. "And I don't say much. I just say thank you."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline 'Celebrating Prince'. Print Edition | Subscribe