"The system is broken," Prince shouted
to an audience of thousands. "It's up to you young people to fix it."
Prince played some of his chart-topping hits as well his newest song, "Baltimore," written in the aftermath of recent events. The lyrics in the opening verse are: "Does anybody hear us pray / For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? / Peace is more than the absence of war."
The power of great artists is to take human experience and transform it into something universal, whether it's the feeling of a broken heart or the heartache of a broken system.
In moments such as these -- while seemingly half our nation are burying their brothers and sisters from daily violence while the other half of our nation are burying their heads in the sand -- political artists have the particular power, or at least the potential, to unite emotion and action.
From Bob Dylan to the Beastie Boys, Mos Def to Mavis Staples, Pete Seeger to Public Enemy, Lady Gaga to Loretta Lynn, every movement for racial, political and economic justice has marched to the beat of its own sound. Emma Goldman famously said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Revolutions need soundtracks.
Prince, who has never been silent on social issues, is particularly welcome in the struggle against police violence. The fact that Prince has been more quiet in recent years has amplified his voice when he does choose to speak, as when he rocked the Golden Globes to give the best original song award to Common and John Legend. Plus, Prince knows how to engage with class; for this most recent concert, he vowed to donate
a portion of the proceeds to Baltimore-based youth organizations.
The concert venue was Baltimore's Royal Farm Arena. His Royal Badness did spark some controversy (arguably impossible not to in this day and age) when he invited Baltimore City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby to join him on stage.
As the city's chief prosecutor, Mosby has filed charges against six police officers in the murder of Freddie Gray. The concert tickets had been a Mother's Day gift from Mosby's husband, a Baltimore city councilman.
But those who oppose Marilyn Mosby as prosecutor -- especially police unions -- are trying to make something out of the state's attorney being dragged up on stage for a star turn. This is part of a broader smear campaign to suggest that Mosby, whose father, mother and grandfather were all cops, is somehow biased against the police.
One imagines that in a crowd of thousands, there were a few police officers who also attended the Prince concert and might have even bopped their shoulders for a moment or two. Does that also render them biased?
Musicians and artists help us see the larger truths. Instead of pitting cops versus citizens, black people versus white people, we should look at the broader picture. For every unarmed black man killed by police, we have a deeper crisis. Prince tried to shed some light on it, or at least raise awareness.
When will the politicians and lawmakers pay more attention? Where was everyone when a report released details of over 100 cases of police brutality in Baltimore
The real royalty are the ordinary people in the community centers and church basements and street protests in Baltimore and Ferguson and Staten Island and everywhere in between. These people are shouting at the top of their lungs and pleading from the bottom of their hearts to stop the pervasive injustice of police brutality.
If along the way, Prince helps more people to become better informed and more engaged, then in my book, that makes him a king.