Prince has never been one of music’s top activists. Sure, he’s recorded an infrequent topical tune, including the 1987 hit “Sign o’ the Times,” but he’s never been one to show up at rallies, perform at benefit concerts or telethons, or discuss politics on talk shows.
He turned a new page Sunday with a Rally 4 Peace concert in Baltimore, which has been on edge since the recent death of Freddie Gray, 25, a black man who died of injuries while in custody in the back of a police transport van.
Prince performed his new song, “Baltimore,” for the first time. “Nobody got in nobody's way, so I guess you could say it was a good day, at least a little better than the day in Baltimore,” he sang. “Does anybody hear us pray, for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? Peace is more than the absence of a war." A later lyric says "let's take all the guns away." (The song, a very poppy piece with Prince’s guitar getting increasingly insistent, was released on SoundCloud on Saturday.Also posted below.)
According to a Baltimore Sun report on the concert, Prince told the fans that he wanted the event to be "catalyst for pause and reflection following the outpouring of violence that has gripped Baltimore and areas throughout the U.S."
He made a brief but pointed speech at the concert. "The system is broken. It's going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life. ... The next time I come to Baltimore I want to stay in a hotel owned by you."
On the Grammy Awards in February, Prince made an even more succinct but equally pointed comment when presenting the album of the year trophy. “Albums matter,” he said. “Black lives matter.”
On Sunday, Prince was joined by special guests Doug E. Fresh, who was big in the ‘80s, and recent soul stars Miguel and Estelle.
The set list was heavy on hits, including “U Got the Look,” “Controversy,” “Kiss,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” and “Little Red Corvette.”