All About The Prince Course At The University Of Houston

All About The Prince Course At The University Of Houston
Photo by Ken Simon

Music legend Prince may be gone, but his legacy lives on through albums, film, iconography, and a college level course taught by Marc Newsome at the University of Houston this semester.

“He is the perfect poster kid for any type of study,” says Newsome. “Like Michelangelo, he did all these things at a genius level. I can relate it to the student art practices, inspiring ways to connect particular albums related to what the student could do within their own discipline. If you’re a sculptor, a painter, a filmmaker, a photographer he did all that in the realm of audio.”

Newsome is better known by his nom d’artiste Marc Furi. His work has appeared all over the city in a variety of mediums, especially his murals in the Third Ward at the Project Row Houses. He has captivated Houston with photography, documentaries, and his famous “Monopoly with real people” mural that comments on gentrification.

He is also a lifelong fan of Prince. One day he was sitting in a coffee shop when he overheard two young people discussing the artist.

“Once of them said, ‘I just don’t get the big thing about Prince,’” says Newsome. “They know the memes, the Chappelle Show bits, but they didn’t grow up with it. I’m kind of on a mission to showcase what he was capable of.”

As a graduate student at UH on a full-ride scholarship for his artistic contributions to the city, Newsome was encouraged to teach a class. Currently, he has 18 students in his Prince studies course, all from the art department.

The goal is to use the late rockstar as a way to talk about both artistic creation and business savvy. His Royal Badness was one of the most prolific content creators of the last century, recording whole albums by himself at a breakneck pace on top of producing work for other acts. He even wrote the entire first Morris Day and the Time record before the band itself was fully formed.

On top of that, Prince made a name for himself as a crossover artist through films like Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon. He was as known for his chameleonic looks as he was for the music. It was his penchant for personas that Newsome is trying to instill in his students.

“During the Purple Rain era, he instructed all his band members to wear a outfit that fit the brand, and to never wear anything else in public,” says Newsome. “I told students to come up with their own personas for their practice.”

It’s solid advice. Artists like Truman Capote, Groucho Marx, and Tupac Shakur live on partially on the way they crafted presentations for themselves. Prince has a lot to teach students in this regard. 

That’s not to say that Prince did not have his failures, and Newsome highlights these as well. The artist’s first gig for Warner Bros. executives went infamously wrong. Everything from botched choreography to a sound system that picked up police radios at random intervals ruined the show. Prince took the feedback from the experience, and the next time he had a chance to perform for the suits he nailed it.

“There was this time Mick Jagger personally asked Prince to open for the Rolling Stones,” says Newsome. “That audience was there for rock and roll, and out comes this guy in thigh high boots and makeup. They threw bottles and chicken bones at him, and Prince stopped the show to get on a plane and leave. Mick calls him, asking him to come back. ‘You think they’ve never thrown stuff at us?’ Prince went back. He learned to keep going.”

Introducing a figure so linked to a bygone age of entertainment as a relevant part of current artistic practices is no easy task. At one point, Newsome wanted to talk about how the film Under the Cherry Moon was a shot-for-shot example of the French New Wave movement. To get the point across, he found short video essays on the movement on YouTube to show students before they watched the feature. It worked.

“That’s how you reach them, these days,” says Newsome. “This generation of students, they don’t speak outside of their minds a lot. They’re so engrossed in tech and apps, so a lot of times they express in their brains rather than verbally. I have to ask, are you getting anything? Then they’ll say they love it.”

As the first semester of Prince studies nears completion, Newsome says UH is over the moon at the response. Budget cuts have kept it from returning in the fall, but Newsome has a meeting scheduled to do it again in the spring. If so, another round of Houston art students will have a chance to learn from two of the best, one contemporary, and one who paved an artistic path unlike any other in his too short life.