Riddle Me List: Let Your Protege Glow...10 Best Prince Proteges

Thursday, April 2, 2009

If I could be Prince protege...I would so do it. I'd grab my drum sticks, wear fishnets (big legs, showing through those holes...), do 'The Bird' and scream with passion...and let Prince do all the work. Well, to an extent. We all know the guitar slayer is famous not only for his own classic tuneage but for possibly producing the most proteges of anyone (Eat it Diddy!). The 80's was the prime hatching ground for these side acts hence why they occupy the bulk of this list. With that said, in no way shape or form does this list discount the musical talents of Carmen Electra...or maybe it does, since the only good thing that came out her relationship with Prince was her namesake. So without further introduction, these are the best of the best when it comes to the Paisley Park Proteges.

Call it wishful thinking, but I have a goal in life to have teased hair and play the drums like Miss Sheila E. Possibly because there hasn't been a female drummer quite as captivating as her, and also because her frosted n' teased hair 'do is what 80's dreams are made of. After being a session player for jazz-fusion artist, George Duke, Sheila Escovedo joined Prince's camp, and became known as simply, Sheila E. She scored with the hit single, "The Glamorous Life" and to this day, it remains her signature tune. A few more hits ("A Love Bizarre", "Hold Me" and "Sex Cymbal"), film appearances and a stint as a part of Prince's touring band followed in the 80's and early 90's. Every once in awhile, Sheila will pop up on our radar, as she recently she won CMT's Gone Country competition...it really is a glam life after all.

What time is it?!? Time for...well, The Time, Prince's first official protege band. The Time were somewhat of an experiment at the beginning of their existence, but morphed into being one of sophisticated funk's finest. On the group's 1981 self-titled debut, the assembled band was clearly just for show as Prince recorded, performed and wrote all of the songs, with the charismatic charmer, Morris Day being the only member to contribute on the record with his vocals. That soon changed once the band members were actually allowed to play. Tensions frequently rose between the band members and Prince himself, so it was no wonder that by the time the band released their third (and final) album, Ice Cream Castles in 1984, the band was almost a completely different line-up. Amidst all ego drama, some classic funk joints emerged such as, "Cool", "Gigolos Get Lonely Too", "The Walk" and the always timeless, "Jungle Love." Ooh wee ohh.

Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman are the funkiest white chicks you'll probably ever meet. Don't believe me? Follow this back story...Best friends, guitarist, Wendy and pianist, Lisa, were apart of The Revolution during their hey-day in the mid-80's, and were the masterminds behind a bulk of tracks during that period. After The Revolution disbanded, the two ladies forged on as a duo and crafted a sophisticated and funky debut album in 1987. The album wasn't a huge success but to my ears, it's one of the best protege offerings, as it blends together funk, soul, rock and jazz wonderfully. Wendy and Lisa would produce a couple of small hits such as the raging, "Waterfall" and classy, "Honeymoon Express" but the hits have sadly dried up. Nowadays, the duo have become more famous for producing other acts (Seal, Gwen Stefani and Rob Thomas) and composing scores for movies and TV shows such as Crossing Jordan and Heroes.

Writing your own material pays off, just ask Miss Sevelle. The Minneapolis native caught the ear of Prince in 1987 with her saccharine soul number, "Love Is Contagious" and wound up being signed to his label and with a hit track on her hands. Whether you loved it or hated it, the song was definitely "contagious". But Taja's solo career wasn't so as she had mediocre success with her 1987 self-titled debut and her 1991 follow-up, Fountains Free. It is my belief that Taja was prematurely written off, as the woman could indeed sang her buns off and had some great tunes to boot (see "How Could You Do Me So Bad" and "Fountains Free"). While Taja has been out of game for awhile, she has been busy with an urban farming program...and oh, yeah, was one of the founders of The Matrix record label, who was responsible for handling the likes of *NSYNC, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in the beginning of their careers. And who says there's not life after the glow?

Sure this former The Time member looked like Prince's doppelganger clad in a manly pink suit and heeled boots, but looks are deceiving. Jesse is best known for being quite a guitar player and producer. After his stint with The Time, Jesse wrote and produced material for the likes of Janet Jackson, Cheryl Lynn and Paula Abdul as well as had hits of his own. In 1985, Jesse released his debut, Jesse Johnson's Revue and scored hits with, "Be Your Man" and "I Want Your Girl" which are nice slices of 80's R&B/Funk. Jesse also contributed to a handful of 80's soundtracks such as The Breakfast Club, Another 48 Hours and Pretty In Pink...and if he wasn't busy enough, he even manged to squeeze in time to do a duet with legendary funk artist, Sly Stone in the mid-80's.

*Can't get enough proteges? See the rest of the list after the cut...*

In technical terms, Sue Ann Carwell was one of Prince's first proteges as she was featured as lead vocalist for one of the early line-ups of The Time. For some reason she was dropped from the roster and Prince never got around to producing her debut album. Of all people, producer Giorgio Moroder managed to produce her 1981 debut, which ultimately fell off the face off the Earth. Former The Time member (and # 5 on this list), Jesse Johnson scooped up Sue Ann to produce a majority of her stellar sophomore effort, 1988's Blue Velvet. The album is quite an obscure find, but once found it's like finding buried treasure as Sue Ann's vibrant and stellar vocals are the focal point. It's seriously worth scoping out for her re-working of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady"...which can stand toe to toe with the original. Kid you not.

Like Taja Sevelle and Sue Ann, Jill Jones was another vocal powerhouse in Prince's camp as she did hold her own as back-up singer for the Queen Of Ivory Soul herself, Teena Marie. In the early 80's, Jill was most known as the "The Lady Cab Driver" and was featured in early Prince videos and in the film, Purple Rain. She stopped posing and became useful in 1987 when her self-titled debut album dropped. The album featured the insanely epic romp, "Mia Bocca" which was a great blend of Prince's experiment between orchestra and funk, something he had been tinkering with on The Family project. Jill didn't recapture the magic of "Mia Bocca" and sadly, managed to be one of the proteges that didn't get a fabulous second chance.

While The Family can be deemed as a loose hodge podge of old Time members and Wendy Melvoin's twin sister, Susannah Melvoin, the band had three things going for them. One was the funkalicious tune, "Screams Of Passion" which was the group's big (and only) hit. The second was they were the first to record the epic, "Nothing Compares 2 U" (made popular by Sinead O'Connor in 1989). The third thing they had going for them was that their one and only album saw Prince in a experimental production mode where he started blending funk chords with string backdrops. The concept was quite impressive and gave The Family album a more classical edge, but unfortunately their shelf-life didn't last long, and the band broke up before they even began.

The Pussycat Dolls wish they could measure up to the trashy brilliance that was Vanity 6 and Apollonia 6 (respectively). With lace corsets adorned, these trio of gals managed to rev up little teenaged boys fantasies back in the early 80's with their sexually potent pop n' funk tunes and seductive stares. Vanity 6's classic romp, "Nasty Girl" is truly an anthem for all the girls who christen themselves "naughty". While the tunes were more about style than substance, the fun didn't last for long as Vanity 6's lead vocalist, Denise Matthews bailed and Apollonia Kotero filled the void. Even though these two groups both had a short existence at one album apiece, without their promiscuous style, some girl groups of now would cease to exist. All this influence from a girl group who were originally supposed to be called The Hookers...keep it classy Prince.

Don't recognize the name? Well, blink in 1985 and you might have missed this group. Margaret Cox (aka Ta Mara) and her four piece band made a dent in the 80's pop-dance world with their hits, "Everybody Dance" and "Affection". While the group was mainly guided by the production force of Jesse Johnson, their group's second album, 1988's Blueberry Gossip failed to grab any attention for the group to stick around any longer.

Honorable Mentions:

*Andre Cymone: Anyone who produces Jody Watley is clearly not a protege, but an entity of their own. Andre Cymone is mostly known for giving Jody Watley a New Jack/Pop makeover when she embarked on a solo career in the 80's (not to mention he was also her husband for a time), but he had humble beginnings in Prince-ville. Andre was a childhood friend of Prince's and was a bassist for an early version of The Revolution. Andre left the band and embarked on a solo career, releasing three new wave-pop albums and gaining a hit with a Prince-penned track called, "Dance Electric". Andre fared better when he produced for the likes of Watley, Tiffany, Lalah Hathaway, Jermaine Stewart, Pebbles and Adam Ant.

*Sheena Easton: Sheena Easton had a great career as little Miss Wholesome in the early 80's as tracks like "Morning Train" and "You Could've Been With Me" are golden pop nuggets. It wasn't until Prince got ahold of her and penned the filthy "Sugar Walls" is when Sheena got a little salty and it was a brilliant makeover for the Irish pop star. Sheena continued to work with Prince throughout the remainder of the 80's as she was a guest vocalist on Prince's 1987 hit, "U Got The Look" and covered a handful of Prince written material on various albums.


  1. great minds think alike! i was going to do a post on this same topic for SB. i love your blog.

  2. No love for Madhouse????

    eh, they were just alright at best, weren't they?

    Great list!

  3. Ice Cream Castle was not The Time's final album. Their final album was called Pandemonium and it was released in July of 1990. Also anyone who calls this group Morris Day and the Time is really lame.

  4. Wow, "anonymous", you're really lame for being so negative and for being "anonymous"...and thanks for the correction

  5. Wendy & Lisa are quite active still as recording artists. "Wendy & Lisa" (1987), "Fruit At the Bottom (1989), "Eroica" (1990), "Girl Bros." (1998), and most recently "White Flags of Winter Chimneys" (2008).

    Definitely check them out.-QH

  6. I am trying to track down one song from Prince's lady protégée. The song was released in the late 80s probably even 1990 - dance pop song - and she only did one song that used to play on the radio, she is not known at all.

    Not from the ones we already know (Apollonia 6, Ingrid Chavez, Sheila E., Sheena Easton, Carmen Electra, Nona Gaye, Cat Glover, Jill Jones, Apollonia Kotero, Martika, Wendy Melvoin, Taja Sevelle, Támar, Bria Valente, Vanity 6, etc..)

    Only a real Prince fan and expert can help me! If anyone can help, let me know!

  7. I really think Alexander Oneal is #2; 2nd to Prince because Alexander Oneal had the strongest voice than anyone from the Prince camp.


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