His Purple Majesty

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I was in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, heading to my hotel in an SUV with other writers and publishing executives attending the Virgin Islands Literary Festival and Book Fair, when someone said, “So Prince is dead.” The SUV grew silent. Then, “Which Prince?” I asked casually. By then I had shoved from my mind the pop-up of His Purple Majesty’s face, dismissed the heart-bump that accompanied it, and lasered my thoughts on 94-year-old Prince Philip of the British Royal Family. “There’s only one Prince,” the death announcer replied solemnly. 

 

One of the first things I did after digesting Prince’s death was send the following email to my children: NOBODY IS TO TOUCH MY PRINCE CHOCOLATE! That was the bar of chocolate wrapped in a drawing of Prince, sketched by the music legend himself, sitting beside the blue concert ticket in the breakfront with my special-occasion china. The chocolate and ticket were mementos of Prince’s 2011 “Welcome 2 America” tour at Madison Square Garden. I was among the Blacks-in-publishing invited by Cheryl Duncan & Co. Public Relations through The Terrie Williams Agency to one of the concerts in the tour. Prince wanted us there, we heard, and we showed up en masse, some in purple in homage to his masterwork, “Purple Rain.” It was my first and last Prince concert. 

 

A cousin of mine introduced me to Prince’s music in 1980 and I’ve been a devotee since. For years, I’ve played “Purple Rain” as background for my fitness classes and recently used it for my Tai Chi class. Prince — seven-time, Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, producer with 40 top Billboard Hot 100 hits; guitar virtuoso and consummate showman; indefatigable warrior for his rights as an artist; and clandestine philanthropist — died on April 21 at the age of 57, from an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller. As smart as he was about the business of himself and his music — maintaining ownership and control over the rights to his music, including the publishing rights, master recordings and performance royalties — he appears to have died without a will. That, says Harry Alford, founder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, makes for a saga of historical proportions. 

 

By all accounts, Prince’s estate — including his mansion and recording studio in Minnesota, catalog of music with hundreds of songs yet to be released, and his name and image — will continue to soar in value. Fans bought more than 4 million of his albums and songs within a week of his death. “His estate is growing larger and larger by the day. How do we total it?  It is a moving target and the courts, IRS and countless attorneys will be tussling with this big behemoth for years to come,” Alford notes. Claimants, too, will tussle: “baby mamas” and children naming Prince as Daddy; perhaps the charities he quietly and consistently funded; and most certainly the government, says Alford. “Let me make this clear: the most interested and consistent party will be the Internal Revenue Service. The federal estate tax will clock about 40 percent of all perceived value and the state of Minnesota will come in and snatch another 16 percent. Yes, the government will be a very active “partner” claiming value and assessing taxes every step along the way of settling the estate of Prince Rogers Nelson.” 

 

Dying intestate is not uncommon among African-Americans. According to LexisNexis, 68 percent of Black adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. In the end, Prince was just like most of us.