School friends say Prince always destined to be great

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School friends say Prince always destined to be great

Minneapolis (AFP) – Friends who knew Prince in school say he was destined for greatness from an early age, remembering a fiendishly talented teenager who dressed fancy, wore cologne and dribbled the basketball like a pro.

Now in their mid-50s, they recalled a friend who excelled at everything he touched, especially music, while a student at Bryant Junior High and later Central High School in early 1970s Minneapolis.

Maxie Rockymore, who is today a playwright, says she was blown away when a young Prince and his then band Grand Central Station gave an impromptu summer gig for about 15 children on Bryant’s outdoor basketball court.

“We were all playing around and then Prince walked over and said, ‘Hey you guys, come over, my band are about to play,’ and we were like, ‘What?!’ We didn’t even notice that he had set up out here,” she said, nearly a week after Prince’s death at age 57.

“They played about three or four songs. I remember it being really like a funk style and I remember us being in awe, going, ‘Wow.’ I can see it as clear as day.”

Prince would have been about 13 or 14, she thinks. Always a sharp dresser, he had the biggest and best groomed afro in school, wore platforms, bell bottoms and favored floral polyester shirts.

“Every time I saw Prince, Prince was walking fast. He was always walking like he was going somewhere,” she said. 

Even going up the stairs at school, he would beat out tunes with drum sticks on the bannister, she remembered.

– Joker –

When it came to music class, Prince was in a league of his own. Rather than joining the rest of the class, he sat alone playing keyboard in a sound-proof booth as the teacher taught everyone else. 

Joey Wilburn, who played basketball with Prince and is pictured alongside him in a team photograph, said he was an “excellent” player who although short could run and dribble really well.

But he also recalled a practical joker and a “funny dude” who once drew a brilliant picture of his brother Herb.

“Very good artist, I think everything he did, he excelled at,” he said. “Whatever he touched, you know, he was a bad dude.”

“I knew he was going to be something. I didn’t know he was going to be that, but we all knew he was going to be something,” said Wilburn.

“He always smelled good, he always had his cologne on. ‘Cos I used to tell him all the time, ‘Come here, oh you smell so good.'” 

Wilburn says he last met Prince some years ago outside a popular barbecue restaurant in Minneapolis where the music icon was parked outside in a limo.

“All of a sudden the window rolls down and he says, ‘Joey,’ and I’m like, ‘Who is that?’ and he said ‘It’s me,’ I said, ‘Well who’s me?’ and then he stuck his head out and I said, ‘Oh what’s up man!’

– Big afro –

Tony Price, a facilities supervisor in the same basketball photo, says he remembers Prince coming to his house and playing the organ, and playing a form of hide and seek in which Prince was too fast to catch.

When it came to girls, it was Prince’s step-brother Duane, the tall, handsome, older basketball star, who was considered the ladies’ man.

“Prince was cute because he had a big afro,” said Rockymore. “He was just one of the neighborhood guys, everybody teased him, he wasn’t the guy that everybody was going after.”

Phillip Crawford, who now works at a church, agrees that Prince was a joker. He once got to school early to put a tack on the teacher’s chair and when the teacher sat down “it just made him crack up laughing.”

He also remembers Prince playing in the lunch room, imitating James Brown and doing the splits. But although they expected him to do well, few ever imagined he would become the global superstar he did.

“I just thought he was going to make an album. Aint nobody thought he was going to blow up like that,” said Crawford.

As Prince’s career took off, his old classmates became prouder and prouder, going to his club Glam Slam to dance while he would play on stage. They have been left stunned and saddened by his early death.

“It still doesn’t feel like it’s real,” said Wilburn.

US musician Prince performing during half-time at Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts on February 4, 2007
Copyright AFP/File Roberto Schmidt

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