“Oh my goodness, Judith Hill,” I mumbled as I had just reluctantly and slowly pried myself out of my seat at the Fox Theater April 14, 2016 after the 7 p.m. Prince – Piano and a Microphone show, and headed out to exit the majestic theater.
I had just witnessed the history-making show with a friend, Tonya – who also happens to be a former Prince employee and dear childhood friend from St. Louis, MO. . We, along with my best friend Robyn, were known in our school and in the city as diehard PRINCE fans since the ’80s.
I could not believe that mesmerizing show was over, but out of respect for Prince – who towards the end of his memory lane performance graciously apologized for having to leave, but wanted to respect the venue’s policy and make way for the guests for his 10 p.m. show – we did.
“Well since HE’s asking, I guess I’ll comply,” is how I felt.
At this point, it was once again safe to take photos, so I took a few last shots in the venue and we slowly made our way from one of the front sections of the FOX to the midway point. And that is when I literally bumped into and passed Judith Hill – but I will come back to this.
To this day, it still gives me chills to relive that special day.
Let me fast forward in time one year…
It was a beautiful Monday in Atlanta. The day before I had just walked through Piedmont Park enjoying the Dogwood Festival, eyeing the beautifully unique works of art and absorbing the sound of live Tejano music blaring with passion and pride for the onlookers and listeners.
As I stopped by various booths that had art focused on musical artists, I asked a few times if there were any pieces of Prince. If there weren’t, I kept moving on to the next artist to see what their offerings were.
Atlanta had overcome a lot over the past few weeks, from storms that wreaked havoc across the state to a major highway infrastructure collapsing, bringing this notorious traffic city to a screeching halt and uncomfortable scramble to realign ourselves.
The festival felt like a large human sigh of relief. Everyone was enjoying the moment. Enjoying the beauty of life.
That was Sunday, April 9, 2017; but it was Monday, April 10 when it hit me.
This time last year, I was counting down the days to see my Musical Genius, Trendsetter and Philanthropic Hero – Prince.
Yes, he was on his way.
I was concerned because he had to reschedule his April 7, 2016 show due to the “flu” – or at least that was the reason given, and that is what we received and then prayed for his healing; for selfish reasons – we were ready to see our Prince!
He has always been a mainstay in my music palette. I am proud to be one of those “O.G.” Prince fans that go back to Day One. I am a “For You” (his first official album release) chick – authentic, real.
No bandwagon fandom here. His harmonies. The fact that he played all the instruments – mixed with those beautiful doe eyes – made him an anomaly in my world as an adolescent.
I hadn’t experienced anything like him. Oh, and yes, maybe there was a shot for me to be his girl one day! After all, he was only about nine or ten years older than me, right?
As the week crept closer to the one-year anniversary of his blessing this city with one of his most memorable shows – that feeling of loss struck again.
For many of his fans, it’s still unbelievable. So many of us grieved the loss of his physical being. Life just wouldn’t be the same without looking forward to seeing Prince LIVE, in the flesh, again.
You never think it will be the last time; you just bank on knowing, you’ll meet again.
After his sudden, tragic death April 21, 2016 it was so hard to process.
It didn’t feel real. I felt like a part of me died.
We’ve heard similar reactions over and over again, but as the anniversary of his blessing the Fox stage nears, in the stillness, I find myself feeling deep sadness, yet honor and a sense of privilege for being one of the few in the scope of the millions of Prince fans to have spent quality “gifted” time with him that night.
He was in his glory, purpose and calling on that stage. Using a synthesized-altered mic effect, he apologized for not coming the week before due to his being, as he stated, “under the weather.”
As he said this with his mouth close to the mic, he gestured with a swoop of his arm similar to doing the worm or making a roller coaster swoop up then swoop down.
The crowd went crazy! You are forgiven Prince. You are here with us!
Let me tell you, he was phenomenal. That experience was priceless. You could feel the authentic emotions of each song.
Who can pull that off? Not many.
We were witnessing history, a genius in action. I was proud to know the words to most selections he grabbed out of his purple hat. He stroked that piano and even pranced around- with a lil’ pimp in his step, to make us swoon even more!
I screamed to the top of my lungs with the biggest grin as, from time to time, he would stand to look out to the crowd in appreciation of the love and give that big smile that made him look like the big afroed teenager I had fallen in “respect” with.
After about 90 minutes of non-stop musical pleasure, we couldn’t believe the show was over. He was trying to get a lot in, but his time on the stage was up.
We didn’t get the “Purple Rain” serenade, but what we got was so much more. We got the beginning of his last official tour stop. We got him fresh. We laid the foundation for what would be his final curtain call. We warmed him up for the finale.
We just didn’t know how blessed we were that night.
I kept saying to myself, “Thank you Jesus.” I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that I got a seat, a great one and saw my boy do his thing.
As I sat in my seat, each song would take me to those unforgettable Prince memories. I thought back to the time I met him at Atlanta Live next to the original Disco Kroger after his Love For One Another Charity show where he was raising money to build hospitals.
I remembered my visit to see him live at Paisley Park for the taping of “Rave Unto the Year 2000.” As he sang a love song, I recalled the picture he signed for me congratulating me on my upcoming nuptials, which simply said “HAPPY WEDDING” in all caps. (To this day, I want to see if it is authentic or if the rep just took a Sharpie and signed it. But based on other handwritten manuscripts, I still believe it’s from him.)
I chuckled as he sang songs from the “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” periods as I remembered going to his Controversy Tour at the Kiel in St. Louis and getting in through the backstage because my dad had connections.
At that show, my dad was shocked and a bit appalled as he didn’t see an afro or pressed-hair teen heartthrob, but a man with high-heeled boots, leg warmers and underwear slightly covered by a trench coat. And he was simulating oral sex, screaming, jumping and playing the heezy out of that guitar! It caught my attention and the artistry was amazing.
Going back to that wonderful night at the Fox a year ago, as we are making our way out after the show, I see Judith Hill. She has a straight face, is walking quickly with determination down the center right aisle going against the flow towards the stage.
I didn’t speak; just mumbled to whomever could hear, “Oh, there’s Judith Hill…” She looked like she was on a mission to get back to her mentor and collaborator.
I did not think anything else of it at the time. Then months later we learned she was on the plane with Prince when he left our shows in Atlanta, headed back to Minneapolis that same night. The story is he blacked out on that flight, only to be what he later described as “transformed.”
As we walked out of the Fox Theater, they handed us a complimentary “Hit N Run Volume 2 CD.” (In pure Prince fashion, he’s going to make sure we leave with quality music. I was grateful.)
The awaiting 10 p.m. crowd was pumped; ready like when it’s your turn to jump double-dutch. They clapped and asked how it was. It was one Purple Army Troop relieving the next Purple Army Troop for Purple Duty!
It was like the United Nations. There were young, old, straight, gay, a multitude of ethnicities. Everyone was different. Prince was a cross-cultural icon.
After fighting through the traffic, my friend Tonya drove me back to my car, but before I exited, we talked another 30 minutes about the show. After compliment after compliment on the performance, I mentioned how he seemed thin and looked a bit fragile.
I said how he’s such a different man than the man he was in the “Purple Rain” days. I expressed how people keep him captive in that era, but he had changed so much since then. I expressed how I felt so much peace about him and admired his walk in faith and spiritual connection to life, the afterlife and God. We both had an eerily-unreal type feeling that we couldn’t quite articulate.
After I got in my car, I could not quite get the Purple shot of adrenaline out of my bones, so I drove one last time by the Fox knowing that at that moment he was mesmerizing the crowd yet again.
One of my industry friends confided earlier that day that this was a “set -up” and that he was just giving us a taste of what to expect with an even larger stadium-size show! They said the plan was for him to continue the stripped-down Piano and a Microphone shows in a few more markets, and my hometown of St. Louis was one of the next stops.
“Hmmm, I gotta get home so I can see it again,” I thought as I drove to my physical home. Little did any of us know it would be his last tour stop and he was on his “Way Back Home” to his eternal resting place.
Thank you Prince for a lifetime of love, music, art and philanthropy.
From a Thankful, Appreciator of his God-given Gifts. A real PRINCE OG – TL Charmont