Just after tears and raindrops fell over the Sabathani Community Center block party Saturday afternoon during “Purple Rain,” the emcee asked the dearly beloved to turn and, in the name of Prince, hug thy neighbor and tell them you love them, and so right there, hundreds of somber young and old Prince fans, friends, and family stopped dancing and did as they were told: hugged a bunch of strangers and said “I love you.”
“Prince would’ve loved that,” I thought, for about the hundredth time since he died April 21, and then I thought the same thing again a few minutes later as a small army of young moms and dads pushed strollers down blocked-off 37th Street to the strains of “Erotic City.”
The Sabathani building was closed for the day, but everybody who came to pay their respects at the free outdoor celebration knew full well it’s history as the former Bryant Junior High school where Prince first formally studied music (“He was at the band room door at 8 a.m. sharp every day waiting to be let in,” his former music theory and music business teacher Jimmy Hamilton told People magazine last week). The building now houses the offices of Outfront.org, Sounds of Blackness, a day care center and other history-making organizations, but Saturday afternoon the reverie was reserved for its and the Bryant Central neighborhood’s most beloved son.
As the PA pumped out Prince’s hits, people stopped, gazed up at the building, and got lost in their own thoughts and memories. Somewhere in the Sabathani building hangs a photo of Prince as an eighth-grade basketball player, which reminded me, as I scanned the merch tables and hot-off-the-presses “rest in purple” and “rest in paradise” T-shirts, that, since I wrote about his Bryant balling days (“We’d give the ball to Prince,” Southwest Journal, 3/10/15), I wanted to go to Bill St. Maine’s Sporting Goods and get an old-school replica Bryant jersey made for him and drop it off at Paisley Park as a thank-you gift for all the fun, funk, beauty and love he brought to my life. Maybe I still will.
Sad faces and purple were everywhere Saturday, with mourners rocking purple make-up, shirts, headbands, jewelry, hair, dresses, jump suits, jackets, Vikings jerseys and T-shirts. The “free hugs” sign was purple, and its creator was getting plenty of action. Sounds of Blackness and Flavor Flav ripped it up, a group of women did a choreographed line dance to “Kiss” that brightened the mood, and Mayor Betsy Hodges perhaps said it best when she quietly proclaimed, “He was one of us and we are of him.”
As the mayor’s words echoed through the crowd, and as lawyers, judges, and family members were sifting through Prince’s monetary and musical legacy in Carver County, kids bopped around the neighborhood with freshly painted Prince symbols on their faces.
The Friendship Store across the street and the food trucks were doing a brisk business, and on the Sabathani playground, a couple hundred kids played on the swings, jungle gyms and basketball hoops. When the PA boomed out the familiar psychedelic strains of “Paisley Park,” hell if the scene didn’t look a lot like “Around The World In A Day” come to life.
“Prince would’ve loved this,” I thought, for the 101st but definitely not the last time.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]