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Thanks to a University of Minnesota degree, his name is ‘Dr. Prince’ now

September 27, 2018

Prince received seven Grammys, one Oscar and numerous awards from MTV, the Minnesota Music Academy and other organizations. On Wednesday, he added a posthumous Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota.

In a ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall, Prince was praised for his contributions as a musician, activist, humanitarian, philanthropist and Minnesotan.

His “impact and legacy are immeasurable,” said American Studies Prof. Elliott Powell, who spoke along with the U president, a member of the Board of Regents, a college dean and the director of the School of Music.

When Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister, accepted the award, she was overcome with emotion. Fighting back tears, she saluted the student musicians onstage and managed a few words: “This is so special. Thank you.”

After the hourlong ceremony, Omarr Baker, Prince’s brother, explained why the doctorate was so special.

“This award ranks higher than all of them,” Baker said in an interview. “Because Prince didn’t even like award shows. Those are bought and sold. This was earned. It’s a lifetime achievement. He’d think this award is on top.”

In addition to speeches by U officials, there was live music — by a U student jazz ensemble and a chamber group in tandem with St. Paul and the Minneapolis Funk All Stars featuring former Prince associates plus recent U graduate Cameron Kinghorn.

Accompanied by a string section, bandleader St. Paul Peterson offered a moving rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which Prince wrote for him to sing in the band the Family.

“I almost didn’t make it through it,” Peterson said afterward. “It was emotional.”

A former recording artist, Tyka Nelson, who seldom sings in public, closed the program with an even more emotional reading of “Purple Rain,” with Jellybean Johnson playing one of the Purple One’s so-called cloud guitars.

The various musicians said they were honored to participate. But keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, a U alum, quipped: “I actually had to attend class to get my degree.”

This doctorate for Prince has been in the works since 1992, according to Regent Darrin Rosha, who proposed it back then with fellow regent Alan Page. The decision got tabled after Prince changed his name to a symbol, but Rosha revisited the idea when he returned to the board in 2015 after a 20-year absence. When the university approached Prince about it, his response was “Cool.”

Prince was even going to perform a benefit concert for U scholarships in 2016, Rosha said, but the star died in April of that year.

A 1976 graduate of Minneapolis Central High School, Prince was a longtime advocate for education, donating to such institutions as Harvest Preparatory School in Minneapolis and Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Prince is the 274th person to receive an honorary doctorate from the U, the school’s highest honor. Recipients include poet Maya Angelou, cartoonist Charles Schulz and politician Hubert Humphrey, as well as jazz composer/bandleader Maria Schneider and Minnesota Orchestra conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

Baker said Prince’s family plans to display the doctorate at the Paisley Park museum.

Regardless when that happens, musician Johnson declared, “Now we have to call him Dr. Prince.”

Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719

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