Friday, June 28, 2019

"A Beauty Like Yours" - Interview with Di Quon

Photo courtesy of Di Quon

"I want to do everything."

A succinct answer to a question about life goals resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for actress Di Quon. Back in 1994, Prince sent out an ad recruiting women for "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" music video. The submission process required Di Quon to record a video about her dreams, so she enlisted the help of a friend.

"It was three minutes of me just directly talking into the camera," Di Quon said in a recent phone interview. "I said, 'You asked me what I wanted to do, and I'd like to do everything.'"

Di Quon transferred the footage to a VHS tape and sent it to Prince's team. They called her, but had a puzzling question.

"They're like, 'Hi. The Artist would like to know if you're in one of these commercials or shows,'" Di Quon recalled. "And I was like, 'Commercials or shows?' And they said, 'Yeah, we have six hours of video and we can't find you.'"

Di Quon realized she'd taped the wrong footage and explained her mistake. But Prince requested she come to Paisley Park studios to film the video anyway.

"When I got to the set, he said, 'So you want to do everything? ... I think I have something for you,'" Di Quon said.

While the other actresses in the video portray women seeing themselves depicted in their dream roles on a large screen--wife, mother, comedian, singer, etc.--Di Quon is shown off to the side, or assisting the women. But hers is one of the first faces shown when the video starts.

Click here to watch the video. 

And because she was in multiple scenes, she never really left the set like most of the other women.

"They would get to go to his club [Glam Slam] or they would go have dinner," she said.

But the upside was spending time with Prince.

"He was a total gentleman," Di Quon said. "He always made sure you were comfortable."

He even showed her one of his new guitars.

"He's like, 'Do you want to see something?'" Di Quon said. "It was almost like a kid that had something new."

Months after the shoot, she and the rest of the cast were invited to a premiere party at Paisley Park that paled in comparison to the famous NYC nightclubs, like the Limelight and Club USA, where Di Quon would dance.

"His party was 10 steps above that," she said. "One room had tiles on the floor, and you would step on them and they would make sounds. ... [And] it would play back what you just programmed."

Afterwards, Di Quon ran into Prince a few times at a nightclub where she worked.

"He was just so kind," she said. "He has this very larger-than-life persona. ... [But] he was really one of the most normal, down-to-earth people when you're one-on-one with him. ... He was a really great human being and I wish that I had gotten to know him better."

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While Prince was encouraging artists to create music independent of record labels, Di Quon went on to work for Sony Music, interacting with megastars like Celine Dion, Marc Anthony and Michael Jackson.

"I think that, because I had that experience with Prince, I was able to be a more capable person in the music industry," she said.

Her connection to Prince also helped her when she transitioned into acting.

"The initial credit of having been in this Prince video that everyone has seen was really meaningful in terms of getting my first shoots," she said.

Today, Di Quon has built an impressive resume of film and TV projects, including roles in "Maid in Manhattan," "Grown Ups" and "Kevin Can Wait." She recently wrapped an indie film, "Soulmate(s)."

Also a wife and mother, Di Quon realized she achieved her goal of doing "everything," as she told Prince 25 years ago.

"I look back and I'm like, 'Wow, I actually did a lot of those things [shown in the video] and I'm still creating the path,'" she said.

Learn more about Di Quon on IMDb or

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Friday, June 21, 2019

"The Spiritual World" - Interview with Lisa Chamblee

"He lived in spirit because he was always a vessel for music."

Photo courtesy of Lisa Chamblee
The first time audio engineer Lisa Chamblee saw Prince with music staff paper was a legendary night at his Paisley Park recording studio.

"I was setting up all of the music stands and he said, 'Make sure we have pencils,'" Chamblee recalled. "I go and sharpen all these pencils and he's walking around, like making sure everything's right and he puts the paper down. And I'm looking at it like, '[This is] dope!'"

That was the night Prince, bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland--practically a holy, musical trinity--recorded nearly a dozen songs in one session. Prince gave the original New Power Generation band members some chord changes and let them fill in the rest. Several tracks, including "Love Like Jazz" and "Wall of Berlin" (my personal favorite) surfaced on Prince's 2009 album, Lotusflow3r.

"That was spiritual," Chamblee said.

Declaring "I am music" and crediting God as the source of his inspiration, Prince made it clear that the very act of playing music was spiritual.

"He was living his purpose," Chamblee said. "His purpose was to touch people through music. And he fulfilled it."

While Prince's playing is moving on its own (I personally think some of his guitar solos are healing), he consistently provided inspirational messages through his lyrics. In fact, the thesis of my forthcoming book is that Prince's spiritual mission was always to make others aware of God's existence.

Chamblee and I got into some of the spiritual messages in Prince's music.

"When I really listen to his stuff on a spiritual level, I get that he's doing a modern-day Negro spiritual," Chamblee said. "It's catchy, so it catches your attention, but then it has coded information. It talks about oppression, but also talks about freedom and showing us the way."

I'll go through Chamblee's specific examples in the book, but I do want to note that, the same week I talked to her, I was reading about a similar perspective in the Howard Journal of Communications' Prince issue. Some scholars propose that Prince's references to the "afterworld" and "new world" in his songs go beyond religion to describe a future for black people that is free from oppression.

While Prince was proud of his heritage and wrote some songs specifically for black people, he also encouraged unity among all races, Chamblee noted.

"The love for Prince has no color or nationality," she said. "He's beloved by the human race. I bet the [extraterrestrials] love him, too."

Born in Minneapolis, Chamblee honed her skills as an engineer in the Twin Cities and graduated from the Institute of Production and Recording (IPR). She went on to gain a credit as an assistant engineer on Prince's 3121 album. There's a terrific profile on Chamblee by the PRN Alumni Foundation, which honors Prince's legacy as a humanitarian.

"I am grateful for this organization because we carry on his missions, especially giving to the people he gave to," she said.

Focusing more on spirituality in our interview, Chamblee discussed her own experience with the Jehovah's Witness faith, which Prince adopted later in his life. Chamblee did Bible study with members of Prince's inner circle, but was too much of a "free spirit" to join the religion.

We also talked about Prince's belief in the "third eye," an esoteric concept of an invisible eye, which provides spiritual intuition.

"The third eye is like your entrance into the spirit world," she said. "He was very spiritual and he lived in spirit because he was always a vessel for music. And that is a huge spiritual experience in itself because anytime you have nothing and then all of a sudden there is something, there's spirit involved."

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Friday, June 14, 2019

"Funky Fresh for the '90s" - Favorite Prince Songs (Part 2)

Back in 2015, I attempted to identify my favorite song from each of Prince's albums from 1978 to 1990. I might make different choices today, but I'll let that list stand.

I thought I'd continue that series by sharing my selections from his 1990s albums.

1. Graffiti Bridge (1990): "The Question of U." What a bloody fight between that, "Joy in Repetition" and "Elephants & Flowers." "The Question of U" is just so intriguing due to the dark mood, voice effects and hand claps.

2. Diamonds and Pearls (1991): "Thunder." If you'd asked me this question about 20 years ago at the beginning of my fandom, I would've said "Willing and Able." But I've grown to love this album so much more since then. "Live 4 Love" is such a burst of energy--largely due to Michael Bland's drumming--but I have to give it to "Thunder," which is a genius composition. You can also pull no less than three interpretations from the lyrics.

3. Love Symbol (1992): "Love 2 the 9's." Unpopular opinion for sure. Yes, I know "7" is on this album. "The Sacrifice of Victor" is also a fierce competitor (I often rewind it just to hear the harmony on "Amen" at the end). This is another album that has grown on me, and I think it's one of his strongest from the decade. "Love 2 the 9's" just makes me happy; Prince was so good at capturing pure joy in his compositions.

4. Come (1994): "Papa." I read about this song before I ever heard it. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the ominous music and heavy, allegedly personal lyrics. It's one of his most unique songs, and the end tugs at my heart every time. "If you love somebody, your life won't be in vain."

5. The Black Album (1994): "Bob George." I don't have a strong personal connection to this album. I have grown to appreciate it, especially through hearing analysis from black scholars on its cultural significance. "Bob George" is Prince at his funniest and quirkiest.

6. The Gold Experience (1995): "Shy." Why am I subjecting myself to this exercise? It's painful to make these choices, but the bass and guitar parts on this track are so interesting (please listen closely in your headphones). I am also a sucker for Prince showing off his Sly Stone-esque vocal ad libs. And it's really great songwriting; the lyrics are creative and vague, so you can have fun filling in the holes. "Cool, dark skin and hot virgin white..."

7. Chaos and Disorder (1996): "The Same December." Break out the tambourines! My favorite part of this song is the gospel music-inspired outro. He switches up the groove multiple times throughout this song, and it's all very delicious. There are also thought-provoking lyrics about unity and the power of perception: "You only see what your heart will show."

8. Emancipation (1996): "Jam of the Year." This is an underrated gem. In the past, it took me a while to comb through this three-disc album and appreciate the songs. However, I instantly loved the laid back groove of "Jam of the Year," along with Rosie Gaines' amazing riffs. Just recently, while listening with headphones, I noticed some ad libs by Prince that I never caught before. That happens a lot with his music.

9. Crystal Ball (1998): "Crystal Ball." I'm not a huge fan of this album, but there are a few tracks I'll play from time to time. The title song, recorded back in 1986, is a 10-minute opus combining all the familiar Prince elements--war, sex and Jesus--over an orchestral arrangement by Clare Fischer. I also have some deeper thoughts about Prince's crystal ball imagery that I'll share in my book.

10. The Truth (1998): "Animal Kingdom." This is one of Prince's top ten albums of all time. I can say that with confidence. When I was younger, I never had any bootlegs of Prince music, so I didn't even know he had a lot of acoustic tunes before I found this project at Half Price Books. I have such a personal relationship with all of these songs. As the years have passed, I find myself drawn to "Animal Kingdom." Prince managed to make a really eccentric song that is still soulful as hell (again, please listen closely to his vocal ad libs).

11. The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale (1999): "Old Friends 4 Sale." More times than not, Prince's re-worked versions of songs are inferior to the original versions. This iteration is an exception; to me, it's equally as strong as the 1985 version. The orchestration is beautiful, and I will always be a sucker for recordings that feature Prince doing soulful vocal ad libs (as you may have gathered by reading this list).

12. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999): "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold." This album is a contender for my least favorite Prince project of all time. This song is one of its few gems. It's R&B with an Arabic flavor and Biblical lyrics--all things that I love. Plus, I'll always remember seeing this video when I was a young teenager and thinking, "This sounds good but he's ... odd."

Can you pick just one favorite song from each '90s album? Please comment with your lists below!

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Friday, June 7, 2019

"It's June" - Prince Birthday Giveaway!

Congrats to the winner, Nate E.! 

This contest has closed. 

Subscribe to my e-mail list for updates on my book on Prince's spiritual journey. Click here.