Throwback to 1980: Remembering the First Time Prince Performed in Detroit

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 7: American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, dancer, actor, and filmmaker Prince (1958-2016) performs onstage during his 1986 Parade Tour on June 7, 1986, at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images)

By Michigan Advance

March 27, 2023

By Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance

MICHIGAN—On March 23, 1980, the late recording artist Prince performed for the first time in Detroit. The concert stop was during Rick James’ “Fire It Up” tour at Cobo Arena. 

Janis Hazel, then a Detroit Cass Tech High School student, begged her parents to attend and they reluctantly approved. Prince, to some music critics, was considered risque. Hazel attended a concert with her older brother, Peter, who enjoyed James, who was the more established artist at the time. James, a music legend who is most noted for his 1981 hit single, “Super Freak,” died in 2004.  

Hazel vividly remembers the concert featuring the iconic performers. 

“I distinctly recall my brother saying when Prince hit the stage: ‘Who is this little freak in his panties?’” 

“I immediately defended Prince,” said Hazel. “‘He is a genius, prodigy, has his own distinct style and I love him!’” 

Since that time, Hazel, a communications and public policy professional who worked for Democratic former lawmakers U.S. Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit and Shirley Chisholm of New York City. She also worked for U.S. Sen. Donald Riegle, a Democrat from Flint. 

Hazel said that she has attended more than 40 Prince concerts over the years. 

Born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, he also performed in several cities throughout Michigan, including Auburn Hills, Clarkston, Saginaw, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. In November 1984, he kicked off his “Purple Rain” tour at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. He returned in 1996 to Cobo Arena to hold a concert on his birthday on June 7 of that year. 

“[Prince] has demonstrated a consciousness for the people of this city,” said then-Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young in 1984 at the height of Prince’s career, according to Detroit News reporting.  

The recording artist was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

During his life, Prince supported the Black Lives Matter movement and in 2012 donated money to Trayvon Martin’s family after the unarmed African American teen was fatally shot in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer. In addition, Prince reportedly donated to human rights charities. 

His last Detroit performance was in April 2015 at the Fox Theatre. Prince died at age 57 in April 2016 after accidentally overdosing on fentanyl.

Detroit artist Charles “Chazz” Miller designed a mural of Prince in the city’s Old Redford community immediately after Prince’s death. 

In Minnesota, the legislature is currently considering a measure, HF 717, that would name a stretch of Highway 5 for Prince.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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