Singer, Actress Vanity dies at the age of 57

Vanity, a Prince protege who renounced her sexy stage persona to become a Christian minister, has died. She was 57.

The singer and actress, born Denise Matthews, died Monday at a hospital in Fremont, California, said Gisela Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Health Care System. Hernandez did not give a cause of death. Matthews’ sister Renay said the death was from complications over longstanding kidney issues.

She said Denise Matthews was happy in recent years. “She loved her time in the ’80s, but I think she loved her recent time more, because she had been at peace,” Renay Matthews said.

A native of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Matthews first rocketed to stardom through her association with Prince and the 80s girl group Vanity 6. During her time in music, Vanity released four albums with Motown and Warner Brothers and was known for her sultry appearance and sexually-themed music, including “Nasty Girl.” She also appeared in films in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including “The Last Dragon,” ”52 Pick-Up” and “Action Jackson.”

Matthews’ health took a turn for the worse in 1992 and she was hospitalized for kidney failure, which she blamed on cocaine and other drug use.

“I was sick inside. I was a crack cocaine addict and didn’t even know how to wake up in the morning without some smoke,” she said in an Associated Press story in 1999.

She renounced her Hollywood lifestyle and became a Christian minister. She married former Oakland Raider Anthony Smith in 1995 and they divorced the next year.

On a GoFundMe page aimed at helping her pay her medical bills, Matthews said four months ago she had gone through 23 surgeries and was on dialysis three times a week. She said she was also diagnosed with sclerosis encapsulating peritonitis, a rare benign cause of small bowel obstruction.

Matthews expressed no regrets about leaving her celebrity lifestyle behind.

“When I was Vanity, it was all about me,” she said in 1999. “But when I’m preaching the word of God, it’s Jesus Christ speaking through me. I don’t want people to know who I was back then, but the new creature that God has made me.”

Musicians around the world expressed sorrow at Matthews’ death.

Prince, who was touring in Australia, dedicated several songs to Matthews during a show, according to the Herald Sun newspaper. They “used to love each other deeply,” Prince said, according to the newspaper. “She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be.”

“Miss you dearly. U are in his arms now, no pain,” tweeted drummer Sheila E., who also worked with Prince.

Rapper MC Hammer tweeted that he had just attended church with Matthews on Saturday.

“Vanity left church after giving a beautiful testimony of appreciation for her Pastors & Thanks to her savior Jesus, I was there,” he tweeted. “I was looking for her Sunday and the announcement came that she fell ill during the night.”

Vanity-Gety.jpg

Associated Press Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this story.

The Story Behind Prince’s New Album

Prince’s latest album, HITNRUN, is out now. There’s no such thing as an “ordinary” Prince album, but this new album—his 38th studio release—is certainly anything but.

For one thing, it was released—at least at first—exclusively via Tidal, Jay Z’s streaming music service. For another, it’s described as “super experimental” (and this is coming from a guy who once released an all-instrumental album having four tracks of 14 minutes each). Also, it represents a deepening of Prince’s collaboration with 25-year-old wunderkind producer Joshua Welton.

The (metaphorical) purple curtain has actually been pushed back pretty far for this release—both Prince and Welton have given multiple interviews—so we know quite a bit about how HITNRUN came together.

Welton first came to Paisley Park “to support my wife Hannah,” he told reporter Smokey D. Fontaine—referring to Hannah Ford Welton, the drummer in Prince’s band 3RDEYEGIRL.

Joshua Welton, a Chicago native, told the BBC that immediately after he met Prince, they talked about Jesus for two hours, “and that was, for nine months, our relationship.”

Then, Prince first gave Welton some unfinished material that he was also sharing with two other producers, Welton told Fontaine. As Welton started to develop the material, Prince liked what he heard—while he was cooking. “Prince actually has his own personal kitchen at Paisley that’s kind of right behind where I was making the music,” Welton told Fontaine, “and a few days later he just came around and said, ‘Josh, I’ve been hearing the funk through the walls!’”

Eventually, Welton became part of the Paisley Park musical family, and ultimately became the first producer with whom Prince ever shared credit on an album: last year’s ART OFFICIAL AGE. Interestingly, Welton told the BBC, in some cases on the new album he ended up producing complete tracks for Prince’s vocals. “Some tracks on the album he didn’t touch any instruments on, so that was really crazy for me as a musician.”

The album also features contributions by STRINGenius—a group of local classical musicians who have worked with Prince on recent releases—as well as Michael Nelson’s Hornheads. The musicians of STRINGenius are seen here in an August recording session at the Brewhouse in Minneapolis, working on a track that will likely appear on the next 3RDEYEGIRL album.

Prince has moved well beyond a conventional album cycle, with a well-delineated period of recording. (Of course, it helps that he essentially lives in a recording studio: Paisley Park.) Prince is constantly making new music, says Welton. “He’s walking music, so we always have to be ready to record, and always be ready to lay something down. That’s just the heartbeat of any musician,” Welton tells the BBC, saying that “we’re always recording.”

Interviews promoting the new album have provided further glimpses into life behind the scenes at Paisley Park. Almost every reporter mentions ping-pong, and the New York Post even got a peek at “Prince’s paddle, which no one else is allowed to touch. It’s well-worn, the rubber frayed, ‘because it’s always on fire,’ quips Welton.”

In an Ebony interview, Welton also offers the closest thing yet to official confirmation that Prince did in fact play the White House at a private concert in June, with Stevie Wonder. The show was widely reported, but neither the White House nor Prince have officially confirmed that it happened. Welton, though, is more forthcoming.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences,” Welton told Ebony. “It was the first time I met Stevie Wonder. He was there and came and jammed outta nowhere with us. The Obama family is beautiful, they’re really amazing and we really enjoyed ourselves.”

The “Kiss” lick quoted on the single “Stare” (a Spotify exclusive that does not appear on HITNRUN) is the kind of flourish that Welton enjoys. The new album kicks off with a remix of the intro to Prince’s debut album “For You,” and the references to Prince’s catalog run right up to his most recent releases; HITNRUN includes a new version of the meme-inspired ART OFFICIAL AGE track “THIS COULD B US.”

Everyone who’s heard the album seems to agree that it sounds “aggressive”: loud, diverse, and club-friendly. “In between glimpses of vintage Prince,” writes a New York Post reporter, “there are blasts of hip-hop, electro-funk, house and even dubstep.”

Prince—who was the first major artist to release an album online, with 1997’s Crystal Ball—has had a hot-and-cold relationship with the Internet in recent years, and has expressed concern about the economic model of streaming services in particular, but he says he’s found a kindred spirit in Tidal’s principal owner. “Jay Z and I did a deal in 90 days,” Prince told Fontaine. “He gets it.”

Welton added that the service’s high fidelity was also a draw. “We take time to make it sound great and we would love for people to hear it the way that we hear it, uncompromised.”

Speaking to USA Today, Prince also notes that he appreciates the fact that Tidal is black-owned. “[Fans] care about black-owned, don’t they? Go over [to other services] if you want. Any sort of ownership we have is really important.”

Prince’s artistic control over the album’s presentation on Tidal was complete, he told Entertainment Weekly. “Jay allowed us pick the art work, the design of the page, the related-content features. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to do that when it’s your music, your creation?” Speaking to Ebony, Prince elaborated that instead of “related” music (“I love D’Angelo but he’s just getting started”), there will be links to music by performers who have influenced him.

Earlier this year, Tidal streamed Prince’s Baltimore benefit concert, and the service sponsored this weekend’s three-night dance party at Paisley Park. (Read Andrea Swensson’s report from Saturday night’s event.) Prince has indicatedthat the album will eventually be released in physical formats, but no details have yet been announced.

HITNRUN is clearly an album Prince and Welton enjoyed making, but will it enter the pantheon of Prince classics? That answer is for you to decide—if you subscribe to Tidal. As for Welton, his ambitions for the album are real but modest.

“Prince and I,” he told the BBC, “we’re excited to hear what people think about the album and we’re hoping people will dance around to it and have a good time!”

Find HITnRUN on: TIDAL or Amazon.

[ article by Jay Gabler ]

‘Groove Is in the Heart’ : Turns 25

National treasure “Groove Is in the Heart” turned 25 this month, and the Deee-Lite album it appeared on, World Clique, was released on Aug. 7, so what better time to take a look back at the song?

World Clique was Deee-Lite’s debut album, but “Groove” was originally written in the late 1980s and was played live as early as 1989. The song is built around a few different samples, and though the bass line is lifted from a Herbie Hancock song called “Bring Down the Birds” (from the soundtrack to a Michelangelo Antonioni film called Blow-Up), it’s performed on the recorded version by legendary Parliament-Funkadelic bassist and funk alien Bootsy Collins.

Maceo Parker, another P-Funk alum, plays saxophone and also appears in the video, and Q-Tip, from A Tribe Called Quest, contributes the song’s rap verse.

The patchwork lineup on the song – and on World Clique as a whole – is fitting for Deee-Lite, whose core membership included members from Ukraine and Japan who settled in New York, where they were all involved as DJs in the East Village’s dance and club scene. Check out this video of singer Lady Miss Kier performing at New York’s Irving Plaza in 1989.

“Groove Is in the Heart” was an immediate hit, reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play Chart and No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also hit No. 1 for a week in Australia and was named the single of the year by both NME andThe Village Voice. Both the song and album went gold before the end of the year, and though the group couldn’t replicate the success of the album, its members have continued their careers as DJs since then.

[ article by Alex Heigl ]

Rick Rollin’ in Uptown

“Uptown Funk” is the song that refuses to die. The Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit has incredible legs, thanks to a seemingly endless stream of covers and Web videos. Rick Astley, best known for his hit “Never Gonna Give You Up,” became the latest artist to do a rendition of the popular tune.

The performance took place during Let’s Rock London, an ’80s concert festival. Astley’s voice still sounds pretty darn good and added a different flavor to the song.

Between Rick Rolling and cellphone commercials, Astley doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Kinda like this song we’ve all come to know and love.

[ post by Jason Hasenohr ]

Happy Birthday to PRINCE !

Prince

June 7 is Prince’s Birthday! The young lad turns 57 today. What’s your favorite Prince tune? Let us know. We’ll play it!