Celebrating Prince’s Legacy of Activism and Philanthropy
Legendary artist Prince was not only a pop culture icon, but also a dedicated philanthropist and activist. | Neil Lupin/Getty Images

Celebrating Prince’s Legacy of Activism and Philanthropy

Musician and activist Prince consistently fought for equality and freedom—artistic and otherwise. Here are seven times he used his platform to help others.

Prince was more than just an icon of music—composing, producing, and performing an endless stream of songs and albums, revolutionizing concert films, laying waste to anyone who dared to jam before him, and giving one of the most memorable Super Bowl halftime performances playing in the literal purple rain—he also consistently used his platform to push for change and advocate for others. And did you know, he followed a meat-free diet for most of his life?

Here are seven times Prince spoke out and encouraged kindness.

In his 57 years on Earth, Prince continuously used his voice to promote kindness, advocate for himself and other artists, and stand up for animal rights. The artist’s legacy lives on, even though he passed away in April 2016. His presence is still felt in the music industry, where he fought tirelessly for artists’ rights and beyond.

If there’s a through line to the causes that Prince put his weight behind, it’s freedom. As he made clear in his 2004 induction speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, freedom—artistic and otherwise—was always at the forefront of his mind. 

When I first started out in the music industry, I was most concerned with freedom,” he explained at the time. Freedom to produce, freedom to play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted to.

Prince: Musician and Activist

Prince never shied away from using his voice to stand up for himself or speak out for others. From advocating for racial justice to standing up for animal rights, here are seven times the Grammy- and Oscar-winning artist used his platform for good.

Percussionist and vocalist Sheila E. was one of Prince’s many protégés. | Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Prince Created Opportunities for Women In Music

Prince worked with dozens of women musicians throughout his career, and gave these artists tremendous opportunities in the music industry up until his death.

Some of his most famous protégés include Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (Wendy & Lisa), who were part of his band The Revolution in the 1980s and recorded “Purple Rain with him, as well as Sheila E., a legendary percussionist and vocalist who worked with Prince off and on for nearly his entire career. As with many of his backing bands, his latest collective, 3RDEYEGIRL, was made up of exceptionally talented women musicians whose careers skyrocketed from the exposure.

Prince also wrote music for many well-known female artists and groups, including hit songs for The Bangles (“Manic Monday”), Madonna (“Love Song”), Sinéad O’Connor (“Nothing Compares 2U”), and more. In many instances, his influence helped launch their careers. In 1982, he formed his first girl group, Vanity 6, which featured singer (and his girlfriend at the time) Denise “Vanity” Matthews. He wrote the music for their sole, self-titled album, which was released that year. He also worked closely with Janelle Monae on her 2016 album, Dirty Computer.

After his death, many of the women artists Prince supported over the years shared stories of how his support—rare for an artist of his magnitude in all of music history—changed their careers and their lives.

Prince Advocated for Artists’ Rights

The music industry isn’t necessarily known for being kind and fair to artists. That makes it all the more impressive that Prince staunchly advocated for his own rights as well as the rights of other music creators who are often stifled and controlled by record labels eager to turn a profit.

In fact, Prince spent much of his career fighting for control of his own music and famously ditched his name in 1993 in an effort to enact record contract reform. He changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph in the hopes that his record contract would no longer be enforceable if stopped going by his previous moniker. 

While the name change didn’t work, it did help kickstart a larger discussion about contract reform. As Prince explained to Ebony, artists should seek to control the distribution of their own music. “Where we finally get into a position to run things — we all should help,” he said.

Prince also felt that artists, particularly Black artists, should own their masters, which are the official original recordings of a song, sound, or performance. According to those close to him, he saw this form of ownership as a way to fight racism.

Once he left his record label, Prince became the first artist to sell albums directly to the public on the Internet. He also founded the NPG Music Club in 2001 as a way to connect directly with his fans, and explored other distribution tactics as well. Case in point: Fans who bought tickets to his 2004 concert tour were given a copy of his new album, “Musicology.”

Prior to his death, Prince joined Tidal—the music streaming service backed by Jay Z. As he told Rolling Stone in 2015, picking Tidal over similar platforms was a deliberate choice. “Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves. Jay Z spent $100 million of his own money to build his own service,” he explained. “We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.

Today, even after Prince’s passing, other artists and bands have used his tactics to fight for their artistic freedom and circumvent ­traditional distribution routes. Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Chance the Rapper, to name a few, have taken cues from the late musician by ­releasing albums directly to their fans.

Prince was a strong advocate for artistic freedom and pay equity for musicians. | Polly Haas for LIVEKINDLY

Pay Equity Was a Personal Cause for Prince

Prince advocated for pay equity years before it was considered the “woke” thing to do. He counted Madonna and Michael Jackson as his contemporaries, but had to fight for the compensation and recognition he saw them (and others) receiving. 

With that in mind, Prince signed a 1992 contract with Warner Bros. that not only gave him more money for his work, but a bit more control as well. The contract included six albums and allowed Prince to release music more in line with his own fast pace—up to one new album a year. It also included a $10 million advance per album and a 25 percent royalty rate. 

Furthermore, the hefty contract transformed Prince’s Paisley Park Records from a vanity imprint into a joint venture with Warner Bros. When Prince’s team, unbeknownst to Warner Bros., shared a press release that noted the deal’s estimated $100 million value, it got the recognition Prince and those around him had hoped for: The lead of the Los Angeles Times‘ story about the agreement read, “Eat your hearts out, Michael Jackson and Madonna.

Prince Supported Black Lives Matter

Prince was an avid and constant supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement as it gained traction in the last few years of his life.

He showed his support for the social justice movement in a myriad of ways, including by writing tribute songs for shooting victims like Freddie Gray. Prince’s track “Baltimore,” which addressed Gray’s murder, included the lyrics: “Does anybody hear us pray?/For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray/Peace is more than the absence of war.”

Prince also organized a 2015 “Rally 4 Peace” concert in Gray’s honor in Baltimore and, according to Rev. Al Sharpton, sent money to Trayvon Martin’s family in 2012 after the unarmed teen was shot and killed in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

In June 2020, Prince’s estate shared a note that was found in his personal archives. In it, the singer called for peace and understanding. “Nothing more ugly in the whole wide world than INTOLERANCE (between) Black, white, red, yellow, boy or girl. INTOLERANCE.

Prince also used his platform to advocate for Black Lives Matter even, and especially when, the spotlight should have been on himself. Case in point: When he presented the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2015, he used his time at the podium to share a crucial message with the audience. “Albums still matter,” he declared that night. “Like books and Black lives, albums still matter. Tonight and always.

And even before the Black Lives Matter movement was formally established, Prince advocated for Black lives. He told The Associated Press in 2004 that he had previously scolded music industry bosses over, music, specifically rap and R&B, that promoted sex, drugs, and violence. “What you won’t show your kids, don’t show ours,” he said at the time.

Meat is not allowed at the Paisley Park Estate. | Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Prince Stuck to a Meat-Free Diet

Though Prince didn’t often talk about his eating regimine, he reportedly adhered to a vegetarian (and mostly vegan) for many years, and declared his Paisley Park Estate in Minnesota a meat-free zone.

To eat a tomato and then replant it for your nutrition as opposed to killing a cow or a pig for your meal is reducing the amount of suffering in the world. Besides, pigs are too cute to die.

Even after Prince’s death, Paisley Park has stayed meat-free. In fact, all visitors and staff must eschew meat, and preferably all animal products, during their time on the property. 

Prince was outspoken about animal rights and nutrition and it was not uncommon for these themes to show up in his music as well,” Paisley Park tour operations manager Mitch Maguire told The Daily Meal in June 2018. “Out of respect for Prince and his personal ethos, Paisley Park remains a vegetarian facility for both staff and guests alike.”

Prince Was an Animal Rights Champ

While Prince was often quiet about his activism, he was a strong supporter of animal rights. In 1998 he wrote a song for PETA called “Animal Kingdom,” in which he argued that animals should never be used for food.

The lyrics to the track include: “No member of the animal kingdom ever did a thing to me / It’s why I don’t eat red meat or white fish / Don’t give me no blue cheese / We’re all members of the animal kingdom / Leave your brothers and sisters in the sea.”

Prince maintained the belief that killing animals for food is wrong and unnecessary. “‘Thou shalt not kill’ means just that! We don’t have to kill things to survive,” he told Vegetarian Times in 1997. “Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. It is never wasted. To eat a tomato and then replant it for your nutrition as opposed to killing a cow or a pig for your meal is reducing the amount of suffering in the world. Besides, pigs are too cute to die.

Prince later attended PETA’s 2005 gala, and was named the organization’s “Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrity” the following year.

Prince Was a Dedicated Philanthropist

Thanks to his incredibly successful career, Prince was able to support several causes that were very important to him, including clean energy and education. According to the late musician’s pal, Van Jones, Prince helped fund an organization Jones founded called Green for All. The charity aims to bring unions and environmentalists together to push for anti-poverty measures and a clean-energy economy, and has installed solar panels on the roofs of buildings in Oakland.

There are people who have solar panels right now on their houses in Oakland, California that don’t know Prince paid for them,” Jones told SFGate not long after the singer’s death.

Prince also helped launch another organization called Yes We Code, which is a nonprofit that encourages and helps urban youth embrace careers in the tech sector. The Minnesota native reportedly supported Yes We Code following the Trayvon Martin verdict.

And that’s not all. In 2011, after finishing the New York shows on his “Welcome 2 America” tour, Prince gave $1 million to Harlem Children’s Zone—an organization that provides parenting workshops, a preschool program, and other resources to children and families living in Harlem in an effort to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. The singer also donated the custom gold-plated Fender Stratocaster guitar that he used during his New York shows to raise money for the nonprofit.

Additionally, Prince reportedly donated $12,000 to an African American library in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2001. The generous donation was kept private (at Prince’s request) and was only revealed after he passed away.