Prince: The Artist Now Known as a Philanthropist
May 12, 2016
(Melissa Moy is special projects associate for Glasspockets.)
Prince was known for his over-the-top showmanship, his musical genius, and for notoriously changing his stage name to a symbol after a copyright battle.
Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the prolific artist released 39 albums over a 40-year career; his last two, HITnRUN Phase One and HITnRUN Phase Two, were released in September and December 2015. A mentor and producer for an entire generation of musicians, Prince also penned Top 40 hits for more than a dozen artists - in all, winning seven Grammys along the way.
Since his unexpected death in April, Prince’s philanthropic endeavors are now coming to light as friends, family and charity organizations are speaking up about his quiet, anonymous giving.
Van Jones, a friend, philanthropic advisor and attorney for Prince, shared his memories on YouTube, describing how Prince was quick to act whenever a friend or stranger needed aid, from installing solar roofing panels for poor families to making sure a friend’s children were cared for during a crisis. Jones recalled Prince saying: “Don’t give me the credit, don’t give me the glory.”
Interest in Prince’s philanthropy will likely raise the visibility of causes he cared about, with news of his good deeds now circulating widely in the media.
"It seems anonymity has a shelf life...We now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.”
Even with all of the press attention, much remains unknown about Prince’s philanthropy. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince may have felt compelled to keep his giving private. Jehovah’s Witnesses are politically neutral and are discouraged from engaging in voting, advocacy or activism. These factors may have spurred the singer-songwriter’s desire to remain anonymous about his philanthropy.
However, it seems anonymity has a shelf life. Although he may have desired to remain below the philanthropic radar, with his death, we now know that Prince was a long-time supporter of a range of causes in his native Minnesota and across the country.
Prince often focused his support in helping youth and disadvantaged communities, contributing to #YesWeCode, an organization that equips urban minority youth with technology education and Green for All, which creates green jobs in struggling communities. Prince also gave $12,000 to help prevent the closure of the Western Branch Library of the Louisville Free Public Library in Kentucky, the nation’s first full-service library for African Americans.
The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community. Many point to the fact that Prince made his home in Minnesota rather than pick up and move to Hollywood or New York as further evidence of his commitment to his community.
His 1984 movie, Purple Rain, was about the music scene and life in Minneapolis; several scenes were filmed at local music venues, First Avenue and 7th St Entry. And well beyond the making of the film, his philanthropy continued to rain support on local issues.
“The Purple Rain philanthropist supported local causes and used his platform to draw attention to his community.”
In Minnesota, he secretly gave $80,000 to Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation and $50,000 to a fund for the victims and families of the 2007 I-35 West bridge collapse.
Prince’s former wife, Manuela Testolini, described him as a “fierce philanthropist.” In fact, the couple met doing philanthropic work together. Testolini credited Prince for inspiring her to start her own charity 10 years ago. Just before Prince’s death, her foundation, In a Perfect World, had announced plans to build and name a school in his honor.
Prince’s foundation, Love 4 One Another Charities, gave away $3.2 million to charities from 2001-2007, according to federal tax returns. In that same time period, Prince gave $10.9 million to his foundation. The foundation was funded, at least in part, by Prince’s 1995-97 Love 4 One Another tour.
It is unknown what happened to his foundation, as tax returns are unavailable beyond 2007, at which point the foundation held $11.9 million in assets.
In 2007, his foundation’s largest gifts included $800,000 for the Peccole Lakes Kingdom Hall Fund, in Las Vegas, to support a Jehovah’s Witness organization; $50,000 to the aforementioned Minnesota Helps Bridge Disaster Fund; $50,000 to Testolini’s In A Perfect World, in Minneapolis, which supports education for at-risk children; and $40,000 for Urban Farming, in Southfield, MI, to support healthy living and food for the hungry.
Prince the Activist
Although Prince quietly conducted his philanthropy, he seemed aware of the power and light he could shine on social issues important to him, and he often used his influence to take very public stands.
In 2004, he publicly criticized the music industry for promoting sex, violence and drugs in rap and R&B. On his 1999 album notes, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Prince, a vegan, wrote about the cruelty of wool production.
More recently, the “Purple Rain” philanthropist spoke out against racial injustice.
Prince held benefit concerts for organizations and individuals in need. He gave money to the family of Trayvon Martin, the African American youth shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.
In response to the deaths of young black men at the hands of police, Prince wrote and performed a new protest song, “Baltimore,” at his 2015 Rally4Peace event. The song included references to Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and the chorus: “If there ain't no justice then there ain't no peace.”
At the 2015 Grammys, Prince alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement while presenting the album of the year, declaring: “Albums still matter. Like books and black lives, albums still matter. Tonight. Always.”
A will for Prince’s estate has not been found, so it is uncertain if he earmarked funds for favorite charities. However, with the legacy of his philanthropy in the spotlight, perhaps the causes and organizations Prince supported will benefit anew from the visibility and influence the knowledge of his support brings.