Homeless at 12 — how Prince’s past shaped his future

Photo credit: Prince (@PRINCESTAGRAM) via Instagram
Photo credit: Prince (@PRINCESTAGRAM) via Instagram

Prince’s legendary career sadly came to an end on April 21, 2016 when he was found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. But what led to the beginning of his ride to stardom is a part of his life that deserves to be remembered.

Born in Minneapolis, a place he once said he’d never leave because “it’s so cold, it keeps the bad people out,” Prince was named after his father’s stage name. John Nelson was a plastic molder, but by night, he was a jazz musician who played at clubs and blues bars. His son would often hang out and watch him perform, mesmerized by the music, sexy women and atmosphere. Prince would play the piano every day and play other instruments at department stores.

“I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do,” Nelson said of Prince in 1991, according to Daily Mail.

Prince’s father and mother, Mattie Shaw, had a volatile relationship. Nelson was abusive toward Shaw, and when he realized that his behavior was negatively affecting his son, he moved out.

Shaw remarried, but the new step-father was cold toward Prince and his siblings. Prince missed his father and eventually went to stay with him at 12 years old. But one day, Nelson found his son in the bed with a girl. He kicked Prince out.

Prince was devastated and begged his father to allow him to come back, but his father never budged. Prince later retold the situation during a Rolling Stone interview in 1985.

“I sat crying at the phone booth for two hours,” he said. “That’s the last time I cried.”

The young boy had no choice but to temporarily stay with relatives and friends until Bernadette Anderson —the parent of his good friend, Andre — accepted him into their home. Anderson watched over Prince as if he was one of her own. Together, the boys would engage in “carnal acts with a variety of girlfriends,” author Alex Hahn writes in Possessed, The Rise and Fall of Prince.

Around this time, Prince was listening to the R&B station KUXL heavily. He discovered a love for Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and James Brown. Prince, Andre, Charles Smith, and Terry Jackson eventually formed a band called Grand Central. The band played in Jackson’s basement. Prince was the only one who rarely took breaks or drank, which is where his habit of playing all the instruments in a song began.

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