Robert Whitman Reflects on His Incredible Portraits of Young, Pre-Fame Prince

Prince

It began with a casette tape. In 1977, two Minneapolis music managers were trying to convince local photographer Robert Whitman to take photos of an up-and-coming singer. As they sat in a car, they played Whitman the demo of the artist’s first single. The song was called "Soft and Wet" and the artist? His name was Prince Rogers Nelson. 

Now, four decades later, the images that Whitman took of the young, 19-year-old before he became one of the biggest legends in music have resurfaced in a new book, Prince Pre Fame. Page by page, the 648 black-and-white portraits captured snapshots of the "Purple Rain" singer on the cusp of fame as he and Whitman traveled around Minneapolis. 

We talked to Whitman about his first impressions of the young singer, his favorite Prince song, and his memories of Prince as he became the King of Music. 

Related | Gallery: Robert Whitman's Portraits of Pre-Fame Prince

What do you remember about Prince back then when these were taken?

I first met him when he was rehearsing in the studio. He was very quiet, but very friendly to me. I immediately understood he was not very talkative but when I saw him playing the different instruments, you could tell he let his music do the talking. Our photoshoot was fun, we were very free and didn’t have a precise idea, so we were just shooting. We had a great time.

Watching him grow, what was the most remarkable memory you have of his career?

I followed his career as everybody in the world did, I guess. He was able to change and transform himself, but still be able to inspire generations. I met him when he was very young with a dream and I saw him through the years becoming the King of Music. It was a great journey cut too short!

How old was he?

Prince was just 19 years old when we did our photoshoots. We were both very young and full of dreams.

What's your favorite Prince song?

I would say the first song I heard of him in the car stereo back in Minneapolis 1977— “Soft and Wet.” It was a cassette at that time, we were in a parking lot and he starts:

Hey, lover, I got a sugarcane

That I want to lose in you

Baby can you stand the pain

Hey, lover, sugar don’t you see?

There’s so many things that you do to me Oh Baby!!!

It was totally Minneapolis!

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