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 Thursday.
The long-planned concert, nearly six months after Prince’s sudden death from an accidental painkiller overdose, opened unexpectedly with a tribute from President Barack Obama.
“Thank you, Prince, for all the great works you have done. You will be in our hearts forever,” Obama, a fan of The Purple One who invited him to play at the White House, said in a brief video message.
Staying true to Prince’s legacy of marathon parties of infectious funk, the nearly five-hour concert in Minnesota’s capital Saint Paul spent little time on tearful remembrances.
Instead, a parade of singers close to Prince took turns on his hits as they turned a sea of 20,000 fans into a purple party at the XCel Energy Arena.
Soul legend Stevie Wonder, whom Prince regarded as a role model, lent his voice to songs closing with “Purple Rain,” as confetti in the late artist’s signature color came down.
Sounding alarm at the current “craziness in this country and this world,” Wonder hailed Prince as someone who “loved every human being.”
“I will miss him forever,” he said. “We talked about so much, he had so many plans just to make the world a better place to live in.”
“As much as you loved him, he loved you even more.”
Wonder joined Chaka Khan on harmonica for “I Feel For You,” the Prince song that revived the fortunes of the queen of funk, and sang “Raspberry Beret” with Tori Kelly, the 23-year-old rising star who tore energetically through several Prince songs on guitar.
Setting the joyous tone, Prince’s ex-wife, the choreographer Mayte Garcia, came out in a leopard-print dress and matching bikini top, performing an elegant belly-dance in which she balanced a sword on her head.
The Middle Eastern beat morphed into Prince’s “7.” Garcia did not address the crowd but let her feelings be known with a beaming smile.
– A secret humanitarian –
Delighting an audience made up mostly of local fans, the concert opened with Morris Day, Prince’s childhood friend in Minneapolis who played his rival in the classic 1984 film “Purple Rain.”
Prince spent his life around his hometown Minneapolis and adjacent Saint Paul, with his funk style becoming known as the “Minneapolis Sound.”
He died on April 21 at his suburban Paisley Park compound, which last week opened doors to tourists as his estate seeks to ensure financial stability.
Prince’s reciprocated hometown love stands in contrast to that of another Minnesota-born great, Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature Thursday and rarely returns.
With Prince’s body cremated, his tribute also took a different tone than the 2009 memorial service of Michael Jackson, whose casket was escorted into a Los Angeles arena as global media broadcast live.
Prince was famously reclusive, but video testimonials at the service revealed that the artist gave large sums of money to charities anonymously.
“I don’t think Prince wanted to save the world. I think what Prince wanted to do is make sure that people’s gifts… had a chance to sing,” said Van Jones, a former Obama adviser whom Prince tapped for logistical help on his discreet donations.
Among his gifts, Prince wrote a check for $1 million to Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides for poor children’s education in New York, its president Geoffrey Canada said.
– Exploring Prince’s spiritual side –
Singers Luke James and Bilal pulled off Prince’s most inimitable trait — his powerful falsetto — with James bringing in The Purple One’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 one of the more somber moments, 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 that 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 had an idiosyncratic sense of faith, with his songs often merging faith and sexuality.
In one video shown at the concert, the musician said he believed that 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.”