Prince Honored at Touching L.A. Memorial
An intimate, private memorial celebrating the life of Prince was held Wednesday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Jointly organized by Prince’s ex-wives, Manuela Testolini and Mayte Garcia, the event brought together a wide array of celebrities from Larry King to Savion Glover and many of Prince’s old friends including all the members of the Revolution circa Purple Rain – Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Bobby Z and Marc Brown – who all sat together. Most attendees wore black with some sort of purple touch. Spike Lee sported a purple beret and purple Nikes.
A video was screened showing musicians all over the world playing Prince’s songs, fans saying tearful goodbyes and Prince accepting his Academy Award in 1985, draped in a shimmering purple cape. There were also performances, including Esperanza Spalding and Janelle Monáe’s joint covers of “Controversy” and “Take Me With U.” And there were lots of stories about Prince told by his friends.
Tavis Smiley recalled Prince’s insatiable curiosity to know about everything – he called Prince “nosy,” and many in the crowd laughed in assent. He said Prince loved having deep talks about all sorts of subjects. Smiley said they often had hours-long phone conversations about “how to navigate this thing called life.” Michael Testolini, brother of Manuela, told of playing a pickup baseball game with Prince and the band. “An epic game played by the world’s most inept group of players,” he said. Many people spoke of Prince’s fearlessness, his love of pranks and how music was always the primary force in his life. Some talked about Prince jumping onstage in small bars. Nile Rodgers of Chic said that for Prince, “It wasn’t about the fame; it was about the music.”
Many spoke of Prince’s generosity and philanthropy. Morris Hayes, who played keys in the New Power Generation, said that whenever a tour stopped in a town where one of the band members hailed from, Prince would give that member a large check to give to the local school. And if a member’s family passed away, Prince would pay for all of the arrangements.
Mavis Staples of the legendary Staples Singers, who was signed to Paisley Park for seven years, remembered when Prince first tried to find her in order to sign her. When she heard that Prince wanted to write songs for her, she said, “What would Prince write for me? I can’t sing that Apollonia stuff! I’m a grown woman!” She was told that he would write songs that were appropriate for her. She said, “I grinned the whole rest of the year.” Staples said she “adopted” Prince and called him “son,” while he called her “Mama Mavis.” When it came time to record, Staples said sessions often ended well after the sun had come up. “I said, ‘Prince, when do you sleep?’ He said, ‘Mavis, sleeping is a waste of time.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna go waste some time.’” She called him “a beautiful spirit,” and said, “I will miss my son.” She walked off to adoring applause.
Susannah Melvoin, co-lead singer of the Family and Prince’s onetime fiancée, told the origin story of “Starfish and Coffee,” revealing that the original Cynthia Rose was a somewhat peculiar girl who was in her class in grade school, and her teacher’s name was Kathleen. Melvoin said Cynthia was “otherworldly” and that “all of us were ordinary, except for her.” She said that every day Cynthia told her that her favorite number was 12 and that for breakfast she had had “starfish and peepee.” Then one day Cynthia told Susannah that her favorite number was actually 20. Susannah said she told Prince the story of Cynthia Rose several times and one day he asked her to write it down. That day he went to his studio and recorded “Starfish and Coffee,” almost like a gift for her, with many of the details from her real story. But some had to change. “He said it can’t be ‘Starfish and Peepee.’”
Susannah’s sister Wendy, who played guitar in the Revolution for years, said, “He had an ability to make you want to be your best self. Every note I’ve played since then, I’ve thought, ‘Would he like that?’” She also said he liberated her. “He was a great girl,” she said. “He was a better girl than me. But he saw me as a musician. And now I don’t see myself as a female musician; I’m a musician.” She spoke of into introducing him to Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew and Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Hejira. She said the best way to remember him was to be creative. “Being creative is how you can talk to him,” she said. “If you’re being creative, he will talk to you.”
Manuela Testolini, Prince’s second wife, said, “I fell in love with him because of his passion for humanity.” Omarr Baker, Prince’s younger half-brother, said, “when he talked to me, he talked not as a superstar. He talked to me like a brother.” He said it was Prince who had taught him how to ride a bike. Mayte Garcia, his first wife, said Prince was a great father for the few days that their son was alive. She said that the child’s name was Ahmir, which is Arabic for Prince.
At the end of the evening Reverend Michael Beckwith asked all in attendance to give Prince one last standing ovation. The crowd stood and applauded.