Leave it to Prince to be a groundbreaker four years after his death.
With the new Prince Channel this month, he becomes the first artist of color to have a 24/7 music channel on SiriusXM devoted exclusively to his catalog. Not Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Bob Marley or Michael Jackson claimed one.
A temporary new channel that is free this month, it reminds the world of the diversity, depth and originality of his music.
Sirius XM, which is available on your computer, smartphone, car radio and devices connected to your TV, is a sbscription service that's typically more expensive than Spotify or iTunes. But it's streaming free through May 31. It offers several hundred stations — including ones devoted to the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, Garth Brooks, David Bowie, Guns N' Roses and the Eagles — as well as sports talk, news talk and genre-oriented music channels such as vintage country, garage rock and chill music.
But this isn't a commercial for SiriusXM. The topic is the Prince Channel, which is reminiscent of the ad hoc Purple Channel that Sirius programmed for a few weeks after his death in April 2016.
If you know just the greatest hits or the movie "Purple Rain," you'll appreciate the Prince Channel. If you've heard about the Minneapolis icon (who hasn't?) but don't know his music, this is an ideal introduction.
When Prince signed with Warner Bros. in 1977, he told label executives "don't make me black," meaning don't pigeonhole him in R&B because he's African-American. What the Prince Channel shows is that he's genre-less.
"When You Were Mine" is new wave. "Delirious" is rockabilly. "U Got the Look" is pop. "Strollin' " is jazz. "Girls and Boys" is R&B. "Adore" is balladry. "My Name Is Prince" is funk-meets-hip hop. And so many other selections blend different styles into an original sound. Prince is simply a genre unto himself.
The Minnesota megastar is at his best, though, in concert. The channel offers live selections from Las Vegas and London that showcase why he is rock's most complete star. Even if you can't see him, you can still appreciate his talents as a bandleader, arranger, guitarist, singer and performer.
With Prince, nothing could ever be conventional. Ditto for the Prince Channel. It has special features, including a 2005 demo of a prospective Sirius radio show that Prince himself made with DJ Rashida and comic Katt Williams. It includes music from artists Prince dug at the time (Björk, Tower of Power, Spanish Harlem Orchestra), some of his own recordings and bits when Williams calls in as Rashida's wayward roommate.
Also featured periodically on the Prince Channel are "Purple Playlists" by his ex-associates, including Sheila E., Wendy & Lisa and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The Jam and Lewis session is about as good as satellite radio gets as the former Time-members-turned-hit-producers share detailed stories and insightful observations about Prince and his recordings.
For example, Jam recalls playing basketball with Prince outside Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood, where the boss had all the angles on the court mastered. "He could beat anyone in H-O-R-S-E," Jam said.
To provide evidence of Prince's impact, the channel also features tunes he wrote for others (the Bangles' pop smash "Manic Monday," Celine Dion's power ballad "With This Tear"), singers covering his songs (Mariah Carey's "The Beautiful Ones," Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You") as well as pieces by artists he influenced (André Cymone, the New Power Generation). In periodic sound clips, younger stars including Maxwell and H.E.R. offer verbal testimony of the greatness of the Purple One.
As for the Prince songs on SiriusXM, there is nothing from his vaunted Paisley Park vault or bootlegs, just tracks from official releases. Those stipulations were negotiated with the Prince estate.
This Purple sampler draws heavily from the 1970s and '80s but sprinkles in such deep tracks as "Poom Poom" (1998), "Avalanche" (2002) and "U Know" (2014). Ultimately, though, the playlist seems too limited, with maybe 100 selections in rotation and often repeated.
Prince aficionados certainly want more music and less of the cheesy disembodied SiriusXM announcer declaring things like "To music lovers he was king" and "Taking the Minneapolis Sound to the world."
All that needs to be said is his name is Prince.