Remembering Prince at Paisley Park

The artist’s compound and museum will commemorate the first anniversary of the artist’s death with a four-day celebration of his life and music.
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Catherine McHugh
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The artist’s compound and museum will commemorate the first anniversary of the artist’s death with a four-day celebration of his life and music.
Prince at the Grammys in 2004

Prince performs a medley of his hits during the Grammy Awards in 2004. The music icon passed away on April 21, 2016.

A superstar since he was in his 20s, Prince Rogers Nelson could have lived anywhere in the world, but he chose to stay in his home state of Minnesota, even once famously saying: “I like Hollywood. I just like Minneapolis a little bit better.” 

As music lovers commemorate the life of the artist who left this world a year ago at the age of 57, many of the “dearly beloved” will gather at his Paisley Park estate in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. 

Several bands affiliated with Prince, including The Revolution, Morris Day & The Time, the New Power Generation and 3RDEYEGIRL will perform at “Celebration 2017,” which is taking place from April 20-23. Tickets start at $499 for the four-day event.

Organizers said the event will "reflect the spirit" of the singer's June 200 concert, "Prince: A Celebration," and will also include creative personnel, special guests and friends who worked closest with Prince. The events will not only feature live music, but also panel discussions and presentations on Prince's tremendous talent, influence and importance as a composer, musician, producer, live performer and filmmaker.

Fans of the late musician have been able to pay their respects at Paisley Park since it opened to the public as a museum dedicated to Prince on October 28, 2016. Just after signing the rezoning papers that allowed the complex to officially become a museum, Chanhassen Mayor Denny Laufenburger proclaimed that same day to be "Paisley Park Day." 

The proclamation noted how the Twin Cities-bred artist first broke ground on his Paisley Park property in 1987, and that while he was "a universally recognized and celebrated icon," he was also "always Minnesota's own."

Prince's Paisley Park

Prince's Paisley Park Studios complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

The museum is now expecting to draw 600,000 people a year to make the journey to see instruments, artwork, wardrobe and other items belonging to Prince. Whether you are able to make the trip or not, here is some history about the compound followed by some highlights of what Paisley Park visitors can expect to experience.

In 1985, a then 23-year-old architect, Bret Thoeny, who had designed a professional studio in Prince’s first house outside of Minneapolis received a request to build the artist's compound. On his website, he recounts how he met with Prince to discuss the building and creation of Paisley Park. 

“Prince’s idea of having a world class recording studio, large sound stage for filming and tour rehearsal, plus costume design and production was a very progressive radical concept at that time,” Thoeny says. “With my recording studio experience and Prince’s visionary ideas, I was able to create an architectural platform to realize Prince’s dream for the 55,000 square foot complex, all with stylish purple color influences directed by Prince.”

Paisley Park "The Fence" Room

Memorabilia collected from the fence surrounding Paisley Park is shown in the 'The Fence' Room of Prince's Paisley Park Museum.

Constructed from the ground up in all white aluminum with metal panels on the outside to complement the simplicity of the landscape the buildings have very few windows—because recording studios don’t have windows, but also because Prince valued his privacy. 

Named for his 1985 song, "Paisley Park,” the $10 million creative-complex served as Prince’s home and studio. However, a wide variety of other artists, including R.E.M., Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow, Neil Young, Celine Dion and Kool and the Gang, also dropped by over the years to take advantage of the state-of-the-art recording studios and the 12,400-square-foot sound stage. A rehearsal room, performance area, common areas and a smattering of offices were utilized for everything from making costumes to sleeping during all-night sessions. 

Ultimately, Prince also drew his last breath at Paisley Park. The museum is not about mourning his passing but rather honoring his life and the inspiration he provided. A wall of his gold and platinum records and a large case displaying tickets for his 2004 Musicology Tour now block the elevator where the body was discovered; his ashes are housed in a 19-by-18-inch Paisley Park-shaped urn that is enclosed in a glass display.

The glass pyramid that marks the entrance to the building would always be lit up in Prince’s signature purple hue whenever he had an event there. Visitors enter via the estate's stunning atrium, complete with pyramid skylights, which provided Prince with a light-filled sanctuary from the recording areas. Reportedly, his two pet doves, Majesty and Divinity, are still living there. 

Perhaps the biggest attraction for many is the Purple Rain Room, which was once a choreography studio. A projection of purple water ripples on the walls and a recording of Prince singing the title song plays on a continuous loop. In the center, some of Prince’s most iconic Purple Rain items are on display: his bike, his purple jacket, the white Cloud guitar, the Oscar he won for Best Score, his script, the little lavender piano he danced on. 

As far back as 2000, Prince reportedly began planning to eventually turn Paisley Park into a museum. In an interview with etonline.com before the museum opened last year, his sister, Tyka Nelson, explained that the museum is important for her brother's legacy. "We left it the way he would want everybody to see it," Nelson said. "That's what you want when you come here—you want to see him."