Sunday, April 1, 2007

Prince: An Honorary Degree Nominee

With the University of Southern California commencement for the spring of 2007 drawing near, I would like to address the issue of the honorary degree awards for this year. The awards are issued to extraordinary individuals in their field who have obtained very high achievements. According to James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, “In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” Freedman also states that the degree should “celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement.” With such importance of the honorary degree awards, I wanted to take the initiative to address this issue and how it pertains to the world of music. Music has always been an incredibly creative and influential part of the world and people’s lives. Creative mastering can be a highly challenging accomplishment for any artist, while also becoming successful and famous in their field. There is a particular artist that fits the criteria for being one of the best musicians, while obtaining worldwide recognition, and someone who is exceptionally qualified for the USC honorary degree for Doctor of Music.

Every year USC takes the initiative to award these degrees and “honor the individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities. To honor… individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of…the communities of which they are a part.” Acknowledgement to an individual from USC, and to receive a degree of this magnitude, is an exceptional award that would be greatly honored by the receiver. This is why the individual that is the perfect choice, and my nominee of exceptional experience and talent in music, is Prince (birth name: Prince Rogers Nelson).

Prince is a self taught musician on several instruments and he released his first album at age 19. He is a master musician on the guitar, bass, drums and percussion, keyboards, and vocals. As a very diverse artist, he has constantly expanded his musical palette through out the years with a wide range of music styles that include: Rhythm and Blues, Funk, Soul, Pop, Rock, New-Wave, Jazz, and Hip-Hop. His ability to write, compose, and produce, allows him to make most of his music single-handedly, while playing most of the instruments on his albums. Many critics have dubbed him a musical genius because of his versatility, dancing, singing skills, and ability to play various instruments. He has released over a thousand songs both under his own name and through other artists, and is known for having composed and recorded many more songs that remain unreleased. Prince was signed with Warner Bros. and released his first album with them in 1978, titled For You, and the album reached the Billboard 200, while the single “Soft and Wet” performed well on the R&B charts. Known as a musical icon who has released over 25 albums, Prince has sold millions of albums that were ranked as top albums on the Billboard charts, while many of his singles also ranked as number one hits on the charts. Just to name a few, because the list is endless, Purple Rain sold more than thirteen million copies in the U.S. and spent twenty-four consecutive weeks at the top Billboard 200. Two songs from Purple Rain, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” both would top the U.S. single charts and were hits around the world. Prince has recorded soundtracks for movies, including Batman in 1989, which was top of the U.S. album charts at number one. He is known for having a very androgynous and somewhat risqué and provocative style, which shows that he is a very diverse individual that does not follow the stereotypical “norms.” A controversial time in his career was when he changed his name to a male and female symbol as a way of taking back his identity, because he felt Warner Bros. controlled and owned him as an artist. He was known to have the word “slave” written on his face as an act of rebellion. Finally in 2000, his publishing contract with Warner-Chappell expired and he returned to using the name “Prince.”

He then became an independent artist and released his music on the internet through his internet subscription service On June 12, 2006, Prince was honored with a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his “visionary” use of the Internet that included becoming the first major artist to release an entire album-1997’s Crystal Ball-exclusively on the Web. In 2004, he was introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. On February 4, 2007, he performed at the Super Bowl XLI halftime show in Miami, Florida. In April 2004, Prince released the Musicology album and grossed an estimated $87.4 million for the tour. Pollstar named Prince the top concert draw among musicians in America. The album Musicology went on to receive two Grammy wins. On March 2nd, 2007, Prince won an award for "Outstanding Male Artist" at the NAACP Image Awards. Others have benefited from his sympathy and compassion, through his contributions to his community in the form of donations, charity, and animal rights. He donated $37,000 to Princeville, N.C., for building supplies, after the Hurricane Floyd devastation. After Hurricane Katrina, he recorded two new songs, “S.S.T.” and “Brand New Orleans,” and all the proceeds went to the Katrina victims. Animal rights is an important issue for Prince, and he has received a Dolly Green Special Achievement Award by the Ark Trust, an animal-rights group, for his contributions to animals. He is also a vegan vegetarian, and according to PETA the award-winning singer is a "symbol of humanity" because he refuses to eat "anything with parents."

One can see that Prince is of exceptional merit by looking at all his accomplishments in his field. Few people have even come close to achieving as much as he, in the field of music. Some might argue that he shouldn't receive the award because he is strange and has feminine tendencies, including the way he dresses. He is known for wearing high heels and has been quoted saying, "People say I'm wearing heels because I'm short. I wear heels because the women like 'em." This shows that Prince is not afraid to express himself and be diverse, even if others may not agree with it, and diversity is important in the USC criteria for the award. USC takes pride in the Thorton School of Music and is very aware of the hard work and dedication that is involved in a career in music, and the talent that is necessary in obtaining all the achievements made by Prince. At commencement, Prince would advise the class of 2007 to follow dreams and not to let anything get in the way of achievements, or accomplishments. To have pride and seek truth and follow important beliefs. Find passion in life and be the best, and don’t settle for anything less. Prince is the perfect nominee for the USC honorary degree for Doctor of Music.

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