Perhaps one of the greatest entertainers of all time suddenly left us on April 21. Kay and I were on a plane heading to Los Angeles when it came across the screen. I was in shock and it wasn’t but a few minutes before tears came into my eyes. It was so sad as this guy was supposed to live many more years. But nothing in life is guaranteed. Memories started to float in my head. This skinny, light-skinned, processed hair wearing guy singing falsetto and wearing nothing on stage but a diaper and high heeled shoes. Once you got over the shocking sight you would realize that his music was unique and the whole world instantly loved it.
Kay’s brother, Chuck, would start working his tours with his close friend Billy Sparks. Remember the nightclub owner in the movie Purple Rain. That was Billy and he played the role so naturally. Soon the stories of Prince were being relayed to us on a first hand basis. Chuck would be hired and fired again and again. Prince was temperamental and made quick decisions that would be sometimes taken back. All in all, we got great performance tickets.
It became clear to everyone in the music business that Prince was a genius. He left this earth with thousands of unreleased songs in ‘the vault.’ That will become one of the many ‘crystal balls’ that will come into play while family members try to figure out just how much money and value he has left. Since his death over four million albums have been sold. On the same day as his death, 239,000 albums were sold and Nielsen tracked over 1.034 million song-downloads. His estate is growing larger and larger by the day.
How do we total it? It is a moving target and the courts, IRS and countless attorneys will be tussling with this big behemoth for years to come. First off, there doesn’t appear to be a will.
They are searching but have no idea where one would be. He was so private and secretive.
Prince has one full sibling, his sister, Tyka, who is stepping up to help get a handle on this situation. There are three half siblings that his father had after the divorce of his parents. His mother, likewise, produced three half siblings. Right now, they all seem to be talking to each other and have not ‘lawyered up.’ Tyka has employed a reputable attorney and has agreed to have Bremer Trust Bank manage the estate funds. Prince had used them for his financial affairs so that makes something consistent here.
Then there will soon be a bunch of ‘baby mamas’ claiming to have delivered a child of Prince. DNA tests will become an ongoing thing. If one hits, that will throw another monkey wrench in the process of dividing up the estate that is at least worth over $500 million and is growing day to day. His assets such as his recording studio/mansion Paisley Park are appreciating assets. The whole compound may become a tourist attraction the same way ‘Graceland’ for the Elvis Presley estate, delivers millions of dollars to the Presley estate each year.
His catalogue will be almost priceless, especially with the thousands of songs they have yet to release. This will be the key to all interested parties. Let me make this clear: the most interested and consistent party will be the Internal Revenue Service. The federal estate tax will clock about 40% of all perceived value and the state of Minnesota will come in and snatch another 16%. Yes, the government will be a very active ‘partner’ claiming value and assessing taxes every step along the way of settling the estate of Prince Rogers Nelson. There will be many skirmishes in the courts as different parties will have different assessments.
Prince was very philanthropic, but he kept his donations a very big secret. Will those entities, who have been quietly and consistently receiving funding start speaking out and claiming a piece of the future growth? Who will have the authority to declare the price on ‘name and image?’ Michael Jackson’s estate has much activity between Michael’s mother and the IRS. Sometimes they are ‘miles’ apart on each assessment. Keep in mind, Michael had a very thorough will, but debate still lives in the matter of his estate.
Get ready. The saga of the Prince estate will become historic. Maybe as they drill holes into the stored vault in his recording studio an authentic will may come to light. I doubt it. It was just Prince’s style to be mysterious and cause a little ‘Controversy’ as documented in one of his first hits.
I envision Prince going before St. Peter and shouting, “Baby, you’re much too fast.”
(Harry Alford is the president/CEO and co-founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC). For more information about the NBCC, visit or e-mail Harry at .)