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Prince’s legacy in Columbia remembered after pop star’s death

Pearl Jam Honors Prince at Columbia concert

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam speaks highly of Prince at the band's concert in Columbia, South Carolina, (Video by Erin Shaw)
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Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam speaks highly of Prince at the band's concert in Columbia, South Carolina, (Video by Erin Shaw)

Diana Spatz was a teenager when she heard Prince play live in Columbia more than three decades ago.

Now, the 56-year-old is living in Oakland, Calif., and says she has every Prince album ever released. When she heard of the singer’s death Thursday, she said she turned on the hit “Purple Rain.”

“I started listening to it, and all the sudden, I’m crying,” Spatz said.

The Associated Press reported just after 12 p.m. Thursday that the superstar had been found dead at his home in suburban Minneapolis. People across the Midlands reacted to the news with shock and a real sense of loss.

The pop music icon’s death hit home for Terence Young, a Columbia musician performing professionally for 16 years.“When I first saw the movie ‘Purple Rain,’ it changed my life,” Young said. “It made me really want to pursue being a guitarist for a living. I’ve been closing out all my shows for the last 10 to 15 years with ‘Purple Rain.’”

Now, the song will take on added significance, as a tribute to Prince at the end of each performance, Young said.

Across the river in West Columbia, 49-year-old Barry Rogers has been a Prince fan since the early 1980s. When the musician performed at the Colonial Life Arena in Columbia in March 2011, Rogers jumped at the chance to show his passion – and went to the show dressed up as Prince.

“He looked over and pointed to me, and said over the microphone, ‘I’ll be back for you,’” Rogers said. “He brought a lot of people on the stage, then ... asked me to join him at the far end of the stage.”

Rogers went a bit higher than just the stage. At the urging of the audience, Rogers said, Prince pointed him up on top the musician’s purple grand piano.

“I looked at him (and asked), ‘Do I take my boots off?’ He says, ‘No, don’t take those off – they’re funky,’” Rogers said.

Charles Mangan, a junior at the University of South Carolina at the time, made his way to the same concert. He and a friend jumped over the barrier between their seats and the stage to get as close as possible to the action, he said.

The 26-year-old now works in the music industry in New York City. He said that while he knew Prince’s most popular hits, that concert in 2011 opened his eyes to the star’s musical talent and daring sense of fashion. “He went deep catalog, and it was incredible,” Mangan said. 

Prince had something of a connection to Columbia. His drummer, John Blackwell, graduated from W.J. Keenan High School in 1991. Blackwell performed with Prince at the 2011 show in Columbia, after which Mayor Steve Benjamin organized a school assembly at the drummer’s old high school and gave him the key to the city.

“That was a dream come true for me to come home and play in front of the hometown crowd,” Blackwell said in an interview before the event. Blackwell also performed with Prince in April 2004 in Columbia.

After the 2011 show, Prince – at the mayor’s request – donated $250,000 to the Eau Claire Promise Zone, an organization working to help preschoolers and their families in struggling neighborhoods in north Columbia.

Prince’s donation, made in honor of Blackwell, “changed a lot of lives for the better in Eau Claire,” according to Matthew Costello, executive director of the Eau Claire Promise Zone.

“Many projects were funded by Prince, such as the GO Forward Intergenerational Afterschool Center at Gable Oaks Apartment Community, a town-wide reenactment and celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech in Hyatt Park, educational workshops for new parents and childcare center staff, kindergarten readiness programs for 4 and 5 year olds and summer feeding programs,” Costello said.

Costello said the money also helped pay to get seniors at Eau Claire High School assistance filling out college scholarship applications.

Prince was “an incredibly generous and magnanimous guest,” Benjamin said. “I think he’s one of the most gifted and talented artists in American history,” he said. “I know a lot of hearts are broken all across the world right now.”

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