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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Music Legend Prince Dead at 57. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2016 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And begin with the sad breaking news. He was possibly the most talented, charismatic, entertaining, influential and barrier-breaking musician of his generation. Prince, the purple one, died today at the age of 57. The cause of death is not yet known.

We do know that Prince was found unresponsive in an elevator at his estate in Minnesota and that the last few weeks of his life were characteristically a bit mysterious. Prince was an artist of the kind of significant that his death would merit an official statement from the president of the United States.

And, in fact, we just got one moments ago. It reads -- quote -- "Today, the world lost a creative icon. Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. A strong spirit transcends rules, Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his band and all who loved him" -- a statement from President Obama this day.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with a look at a rather irreplaceable life -- Tom.


Here's the thing about Prince. Prince was incredibly showy and at once incredibly private. He showed up in magazines, but not for all of the wrong reasons we often see with celebrity. He was simply a fascinating character and so talented. That's what makes this news today so stunning.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Prince was the perfect performer for his time, a blast of brilliance arising just as MTV and The Walkman were revolutionizing music. He had the sound, had the look, and he had a vision.

PRINCE, MUSICIAN: I learned early on this is what I wanted to do.

FOREMAN: For almost 40 years, he stayed in the vanguard of musical innovation. A fan says he captured his final performance in Atlanta only a week ago and posted it on Twitter.

And this is how it all ended, police and rescue workers at his studio in Minneapolis, stricken fans outside. Prince had not been well and his plane even had to land at one point for treatment. He spoke to some fans about it just a few days back.

MIKE RENDAHL, MINNESOTA: He talked about what happened and he said he was OK and he said don't waste your prayers on me right now. And, you know, wait a few days.

NARRATOR: Prince in his first motion picture.

FOREMAN: Like the character he played in his first movie, "Purple Rain," Prince Rogers Nelson came from Minneapolis, the son of a jazz pianist and a social worker. And he remain tied to the city.

LARRY KING, CNN: We don't think of all of L.A., Nashville, all these hot spot New York places. Minneapolis gets it done, too.

PRINCE: Minneapolis has always been involved. You don't have to go outside of that.

FOREMAN: But his influence was global. Prince produced more than a dozen top-charting songs, won seven Grammys, an Oscar.

Celebrity tributes are pouring in. Justin Timberlake: "Numb. Stunned." Katy Perry: "The world just lost a lot of magic." Whoopi Goldberg, "This is what it sounds like when doves cry."

Prince contributed songs to endless other acts and was renowned as a musical perfectionist, a virtuoso both composing and performing. But he was also noted for his personal humanity. Taking care of struggling friends and even contributing a song to Baltimore in the wake of the devastating riots.

Prince was endlessly prolific. His memoir was supposed to come out next year. As it is, he is gone at 57. Some of his final words on stage, "If I could, I would give you the world."


FOREMAN: Many fans that felt that Prince's performance in the 2007 Super Bowl was simply the best by anyone ever. His performance in 2004 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was absolutely jaw-dropping.

It's a measure of his immense talent that if we spoke of him only as a guitar player, only as a composer, only as a performer, only as a band leader, singer, any one of those would make him a great performer and yet he was all of that and more, Jake.


And I have got to tell you, for 20 years people have said to me, who would you like to want to interview more than anyone else? And I have always said Prince.

TAPPER: I saw him play in Las Vegas in 2004. Without a doubt, hands down, one of the best performers I have ever seen.

FOREMAN: One of the few actual geniuses we will see in our lifetime.

TAPPER: He was 44 and he was bouncing around that stage like he was 16. It was incredible

Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Van Jones. He worked with Prince doing charity work for Rebuild the Dream and Yes We Code.

Van, thanks so much for joining us. I know you were close with Prince. This must have been horrible news for you. What do you think about when you think about your friend?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, you know, the idea of him being a musician is important.

Obviously, it was very important to him. But we spent, you know, an infinite amount of time together and we very rarely talked about music. He's a humanitarian first and foremost. He's not the kind of friend that was there for you when you don't need him. But if you do need him, he is there 1000 percent, whether you know him or not.

There are people right now who have solar panels on their houses in Oakland, California, that Prince paid for and they don't even know it. There are people who -- charities, there are people in hospitals right now who get anonymous gifts.

He never wanted anybody to know how much of a humanitarian he was. He's a Jehovah's Witness. They are not supposed to speak about their good works, but this is a guy who cared so much. If you're talking to him, he's talking about everything in the world. He's talking about Greek philosophy, he's talking about philosophies in Egypt, he's talking about humanity.

And also the other thing nobody knows about him is, if he had not been a musician at all, he still would have been famous as a stand-up comedian. This dude was the funniest guy. He would have you like literally going to pee your pants. He's just an unbelievable all- around human being. Not just a musician, a great human being at every conceivable level.

TAPPER: And, Van, you spoke pretty passionately about Prince's commitment to helping rebuild the dream. Here's a clip of you and Prince talking about your charity work on "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are back with Prince, who is joined by two friends helping him make his upcoming shows in Chicago an event with a lasting impression on the Windy City from the ground up.

Please welcome an actress you know from films like "Men in Black 2" and "Rent," Rosario Dawson and former adviser to President Obama and bestselling author Van Jones.


Welcome, Rosario and Van.

Rosario, I have to say, you give the best hugs. She hugs you so tight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you have known Prince for 14 years.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did that happen?

DAWSON: Blessings. Many, many blessings.


TAPPER: That's just a little clip, Van, from your appearance on "The View" with Prince.

What was he like to work with? Because you worked with him.

JONES: Yes, man.

Well, first of all, we used to call it riding the purple train, because he was so -- such a genius and he's so unpredictable.

And so you're working with him and he will pull these little tricks where he will say, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that. And then he will go on stage and he will do everything you want him to do and more. And he just always had this way of getting the best out of people.

He was tough, man. Rehearsing with the band, he would work them and work them and work them and work them. And he wouldn't say anything. And then when finally they couldn't get any better, he would just say, I think it's time for us to eat. And that's how you knew he was satisfied.

And everybody would be so happy. You know, you don't get an applause. You just get, well, now it's time to eat. Everybody is like, OK, thank God.

He just -- I don't think people understand how much he cared. He watched the news. Whenever I was on TV, I'm always nervous because I know he's going to give me notes, he's going to give me criticism. You know, he's just this guy who cares so much and he uses music, but the song on the stage was just a part of the song of his life.

Everywhere he went, he brought that genius, he brought that excellence, he brought that care, and he brought that mystery. I mean, I just -- can't believe I'm talking about him in the past tense.

TAPPER: Yes, that must be awful.

You and I are roughly the same age. We're in our 40s, a little bit younger than Prince. I think of Prince almost as a post-racial singer in a way just because his first album, 1984, I was 15.

I -- you know, this was the '80s. I didn't think of him as a black singer. I just thought of him as an amazing singer one way or the other. But I know that the African-American community was so important to him.


JONES: Yes, I felt -- that's the one thing I think that is so key to him.

We used to talk about John Henrik Clarke and, like I said, Egyptian philosophy. And he really cared. He believed in the Black Lives Matter kids so much. And he had a dream for them. He said, I hope that they become an economic force. I hope that they use their genius to start businesses and to be creative.

And when he decided to go to Baltimore, he stood on that stage and he said, when I come back to Baltimore, I want to stay at a hotel that you young people have created. I want to go to a restaurant that you young people have created. He really believed.

He was so young, 17 years old, when he first got started. He really believed that the young people could change the world. And he thought about this. We started Yes We Code because of Trayvon Martin. Everybody was marching and protesting about Trayvon Martin. Prince said, no, a black kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a thug. A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as a Silicon Valley genius. Let's teach the black kids how to be like Mark Zuckerberg.

And out of that observation, we built a whole organization. There's so many things about him that the world didn't know because of his religion. He could not speak publicly about his concern for poor people, for struggling people and for the African-American community.

TAPPER: He was so devout as a Jehovah's Witness.

You clearly have so many Prince stories. It's almost unfair for me to ask you this, Van. But do you have a favorite memory of Prince?

JONES: Well, I think my favorite memory was the kind of person that Prince was. He was never, ever there for you when you did not need him.

If you did not need Prince, if you were fine, if you were having a good day, you were not going to hear from Prince. But if you had a bad day, if something went wrong, he was there 1000 percent. And celebrity after celebrity and person after person will tell you that. He doesn't call you when things are going well. He calls you when the media is beating you up. He calls you when you are down on your luck.

And my favorite -- when I left the White House, it was such a tough situation. I left the White House. He had me come over to his house and he told me something that changed my life. He said, people who fight for justice, you know, you're going to have worse days than this. But I want you to do, he said, go to Jerusalem. He said, stay there for a couple weeks and pray.

He said, and then when you come back, take a blank piece of paper and just write down everything you think should happen, and I will help you make it happen.

Now, I'm at the bottom. I'm like Mr. Toxic. Nobody in D.C. will even look me in the eye. And here's Prince, who -- I'm nobody. Obviously, people in the White House loved me, but a lot of people didn't love me.

And, you know, and here he is saying, hey, look, you're going to have a future and, as a matter of fact, go pray. And when you come back, write on a blank piece of paper anything you think should happen in America, and I will help you do it.

And he did. And he did. But this is a man so much more than his music. The music is an expression of a genius that is so deep and so profound, that only music could capture it and express it. But it's so much more than the music, so much more.

TAPPER: All right, Van Jones, my deepest condolences on the loss of your friend. Thanks for joining us.

As word of Prince's death spreads, musicians, actresses, celebrities, politicians all began expressing their sadness, their mourning on Twitter.

Lionel Richie tweeted: "I can't believe it. I'm in total shock. So many wonderful stories."

Nick Jonas wrote: "One of my biggest inspirations. A true icon. You will be missed. Sad, sad news today."

More when we come back.



[16:18:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Perhaps Prince's most instantly recognizable song, certainly not the only one to ripple through and change the music world.

Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More on the breaking news. Music legend Prince has died.

Prince appeared on "THE LARRY KING LIVE" show here in December in 1999. In that interview, Larry King asked Prince, how did he get famous?


LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: Was it a record? An appearance? Something.

PRINCE, MUSIC LEGEND: Well, it started with a lot of appearances I was doing in and about Minneapolis and word just spread about --

KING: So you were a local man?

PRINCE: Yes -- what I can do. And then I was taken out to Los Angeles by my first manager whose name escapes me and other people started getting to see what I could do.

KING: And then did you have a hit record?

PRINCE: No. We were just talking about making one right at that point.

KING: And what burst it for you? What did it for you?

PRINCE: The song?

KING: Yes.

PRINCE: The song was called "Soft and Wet." That's the first --

KING: That immediately became a hit and you were known?

PRINCE: Quietly. But a lot of people knew about me because I was -- I used Stevie Wonder as an inspiration whom I look up to a great deal for the way that he crafted music and his connection to the spirit. And, boy, back then, I used him as a role model in trying to play all of the instruments and be very self-contained and keep my vision clear. So, word spread very quickly about what I could do.


TAPPER: Larry King went on to ask Prince about what category would Prince put his music in. The performer responded he would call his music inspirational.

Joining me now is Bill Werde, former editorial director of "Billboard" magazine.

[16:20:03] Bill, thanks for joining us.

In the music industry, you have had some dealings with Prince. Tell us one of your favorite Prince stories.

BILL WERDE, FORMER EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, BILLBOARD MAGAZINE: Yes. I mean, I think my favorite Prince story -- I love how patient Prince was being there with Larry.

I think my favorite Prince story, you know, a lot of people talk about obviously the musical genius and intensity with which he would follow through on his passions and his beliefs, whether it was the music industry or challenges that artists face or whatever it might be. My favorite Prince story has a lot too with his sense of humor, which was very, very real.

At the time, Billboard relaunched in 2013, redesigned the magazine and Prince was the cover Prince was going to be the cover of this issue. There were all sorts of sort of nonlinear interactions with Prince where we sent a reporter, Gail Mitchell, out to his home at paisley park and when she got there, not only was she not allowed to record anything, she wouldn't even let her take notes.

So, he had these kind of quirks. But we were coming right down to the wire. I mean, not the 11th hour but like the 13th or 15th hour and we didn't have a cover image yet and Prince's team was going to provide a couple of different images for us to choose from in that case and we didn't have an image, we didn't have an image and I'm panicking.

I remember the woman who was working with him at the time finally texted me and she knew I was beyond sanity at that point and she said, we have an image and it's a great image. You guys are going to love it. Prince has personally picked it out for you and I opened it and couldn't wait to see this cover and it was a picture of an old woman who had nothing to do with Prince.

So, you know, he would screw around with people and he had a mischievous and real sense of humor. At a sad time, I'm enjoying thinking of that.

TAPPER: Let's walk through Prince's career if we could. Let's start with "Purple Rain", his sixth album but one of his breakthroughs. The album with the same name as the movie reigned on top of the chart of 24 consecutive weeks. Let's take a listen.


TAPPER: "Purple Rain" is the first time I became aware of Prince, although I know it was his sixth album. Where do you see "Purple Rain's" influence in music today?

WERDE: Oh, God, it's enormous. I think, first of all, people today may not fully remember how insanely competitive Prince was with Michael Jackson, with Madonna. So, this was all around the same time when Michael Jackson is releasing "Thriller." Prince kind of one-ups him and releases an entire movie.

You know, I think when you look today at every artist who wants to be not only want to be a singer or pop star but they also want to be a movie star. They want to be all these different things.

I think Prince is an important part of that continuum, which in fairness, it starts with Elvis and before that. But Prince is a big part of that continuum of the pop star as just like the cultural icon.

TAPPER: And he was this musical tour de force. He did so many things. On albums, he would sing the vocals, he would play the guitar, he would play the drums, he would play the bass. Let's take a few seconds and listen to "Batdance".


TAPPER: I guess not all of his albums were timeless. That seems to be stuck in its era.

But are there any other performers who drew as much as Prince did and practically even more importantly, who tried to do as much as he did?

WERDE: Well, I think today, you know, one of the ones that pops to mind would be like a Beyonce, for example, who absolutely is going to be a star in movies and is going to write music for movies and is going to really kind of take her assets, her brand and sort of extend it in every direction in a way that doesn't hurt her credibility, but really actually extends her power as an artist, and I think that's a little bit of what you were seeing there wit Prince.

TAPPER: He also didn't rely on the traditional boy meets girl constructs on which a lot of artists rely. Here's "Kiss" in which he talks about loving in a different way.


TAPPER: Let's talk about the lyrics and how they shape what artists are trying to do today.

WERDE: Well, I just think, you want to talk about timeless, I don't know an artist on the chart today that wouldn't want to release this song almost exactly as it sounds right now.

[16:25:04] You know, this is where I kind of came in as a young boy in the pop culture continuum and I just remember this just sounded so different than anything else on the radio but I also think today we've all become much more comfortable with hearing what amounts to progressive and provocative discussions of sexual activity on modern media platforms. Prince was so far ahead of his time in this regard.

TAPPER: Yes. In fact, in terms of pushing the envelope, it was "Darling Nikki" that then 11-year-old Karenna Gore was listening to that Tipper Gore overheard the lyrics and from there the parental advisory labels were born.

Bill Werde -- WERDE: I should talk about that -- of course, thank you.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Prince's death coming as a shock but he canceled two concerts in Atlanta last week due to flu. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks more about the singer's health, next.

And as we go to break, let's take a look at Prince performing listen to "Purple Rain" on "The Arsenio Hall Show".