"Love Yourself, So We Can Love You Too"

Electric Fetus, Minneapolis, 1999

Samantha McCarroll-Hyne was five-years-old and on a trip to the record store with her dad when she spotted a CD whose cover featured a braided-haired man wearing an electric blue outfit that “looked like it was made of fruit roll ups,” she recalls. “I asked my Dad who that was and he said, nonchalantly, ‘Oh, that’s Prince.’” Samantha made an impassioned plea for the Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic CD, so he finally acquiesced and the rest, as they say, is history. She was too young to attend gatherings at Paisley Park but imagined a day when she could go and see him up close and personal. Until then, she had to be satisfied to hear stories from her mom, who had attended various gatherings at Paisley in the 90’s.

She would beg her mom to “take her to the Park,” but she wasn’t allowed to go until she was at least 10 years old. Once the appropriate age to attend the events, Samantha and her mom would drive out to Chanhassen on Saturday’s to see if anything was happening, but every time they had to settle for a peaceful, late-night picnic at Lake Ann instead. She remembers a 4th of July fireworks display when she was 11 years old. She turned towards Prince’s house across the lake, content to watch “Prince’s fireworks” instead. On another occasion, her mom picked a lovely flower from the water’s edge at Lake Ann only to be scolded by someone who told her it was an endangered lotus flower planted there specifically by Prince. She placed it in a jar of water where it remained just as lovely for two more weeks.

Fast forward to 2005 when Samantha’s mom started working as a cashier at a food co-op in Chanhassen that, coincidentally, Larry and Tina Graham frequented often, and they befriended the young mom and her daughter, “Sammy”. On a beautiful day in 2006, Samantha and her mom were lounging around at home listening to The Word (from 3121) and, taking the lyrics “Get up, come on, let’s do somethin’” literally, they decided to have an adventure. They first needed to gas up the car so they made a quick stop in St. Louis Park, and while 12-year-old Samantha was sitting in the car listening to “Love” her mom knocked on the window telling her to get out and meet someone. She emerged and saw Larry Graham leading them over to a black SUV with tinted windows. Larry opened the back door and there sat Prince, or “Brother Nelson” as he was introduced, in the backseat smack dab between Larry’s two grandkids. He said quietly, “Nice to meet you,” gave a shy smile, and offered his hand. Samantha could not believe she was meeting her musical hero, but there he was in all his glory. From that point on she saw Prince in these non-public life settings from time to time, such as when Larry invited Samantha and her mom to their home, or occasionally when they attended the Jehovah's Witness church as Larry and Tina’s guests. To Samantha, Prince was “perfectly normal, relaxed, and very calm” in those settings. Yet still, she silently watched him and attempted to reconcile in her mind this soft-spoken, somewhat shy person with the artist whose music had become the major source of inspiration in her young life.  One day while at Larry and Tina’s house she went downstairs to use the bathroom and saw a dozen guitars in stands along the wall. She recognized immediately that these were Prince’s guitars! She stood, jaw open, and stared in awe. In the bathroom, the deep red towels were beautifully embroidered with the Symbol in gold thread. After washing her hands, she couldn’t bring herself to wipe her wet hands on them and instead rubbed them dry on her jeans. This man, whom she respected so deeply and whose impact on her life could not be articulated, treated her with such dignity and respect that she could do no less than return it to him.

In October 2007, Samantha was at a weekend church camp with a friend and when she returned learned she had missed a visit from Prince. Her mom was home with her newborn baby sister when Larry and Prince knocked on the door, were invited in and as Prince sat on the couch he looked down and asked how old the baby was. “Two months,” her mom said, and Prince responded, “Wow, a brand-new life,” with wonder in his face. One can only imagine the thoughts going through his mind in that moment. Prince noticed Guitar Hero and asked, “Is that for kids to learn music?” Samantha was gravely disappointed she wasn’t there because she knows she could have creamed them both had they played Guitar Hero, which she believes they most certainly would have, at her prompting!

As it turned out, Prince was approached by Activision, the makers of Guitar Hero, to license parts of his catalog, but he turned them down outright on principle. He explained in 2011 on the Tavis Smiley show, “Well, I ain’t mad at them. I hear it made, like $2 billion and they came to us and offered us a very small portion of that,” explained Prince. “But I just think it’s more important that kids actually learn to play the guitar. It’s a tough instrument—it’s not easy. It took me a long time, and it was frustrating at first. And you just have to stick with it, and it’s cool for people who don’t have time to learn the chords or ain’t interested in it, but to play music is one of the greatest things.”

Indeed, and Prince had planted a seed of musical inspiration within Samantha that took root and grew quickly. A multi-instrumentalist already (piano, guitar) she was so fond of NPG band member Candy Dulfer, and her sax skills, she picked up the saxophone and started playing hours per day, honing her skill. One day while sitting cross-legged at Prince’s feet, she told him that she started playing saxophone because of Candy. He asked if she had heard some of Candy’s solo work, to which Samantha replied, “I only know her from your Musicology album.” Prince then went on a tangent about the lack of female musicians in the world, and encouraged Samantha to continue practicing, adding a short promise of, “if you’re any good, you can play in my band.” So she practiced even harder, and in true Prince devotee style made herculean efforts to convert her young friends to his music, mostly unsuccessfully. She focused on the Emancipation era (1996) and forward, and was especially fascinated by The Rainbow Children, dissecting the words and rhythms, learning more and more about the complex writer of the songs through his mysterious lyrics. She followed his various muses and learned his music as someone who studies a script, learns their lines and recalls them without effort.

Though Prince eventually spent more and more time in Los Angeles and less time in Chanhassen, Samantha feared she’d never have the chance to make Paisley Park memories as her mom had, but low and behold, he returned home for good in 2010 and once again there was hope. Having graduated from high school in 2012, she turned down a scholarship to McNally School of Music and delayed the start of college for one year, a sacrifice that cost her a great deal, but it was a decision she felt was best for her family given the circumstances that surrounded them. Through dark, personal struggles, Prince’s music was her light, and she is not exaggerating when she says, “It was Prince who helped me make it through those times.”

Samantha’s patience paid off in July 2013, when 3rdeyegirl announced a public rehearsal at Paisley Park on a livestream group chat. After working a 16-hour shift at her job, Samantha ran home to shower and get ready for the experience she had been waiting 19 years for. That was the beginning of three years that can only be described as heaven on earth for Samantha, who was now old enough to frequent Paisley Park every time the doors opened, and they opened a lot! Fortunate for her, she was enfolded into an inner circle of long-time Prince fam that received late night calls to “come to the Park” ‘cause something exciting was unfolding. Oftentimes they’d be instructed to park in the back so as not to tip off passersby that there was something going on. The memories she made are too numerous to share here, but one night does stand out. Samantha found herself one of only a handful at Paisley Park when Madonna’s band came there at Prince’s invitation after a performance at the Xcel in October 2015. These lucky few witnessed an unbelievable show where Prince played for Madonna with his newest band consisting of Kirk Johnson, Mono Neon, Donna Grantis, Adrian Crutchfield, and Prince. Hours after Madonna, her crew, and all the reporters had left, Samantha ended up on stage singing background vocals to newly-released FREEURSELF with only a handful of her closest friends. In the wee hours of the morning of October 9, 2015, having literally danced and sang the night away, they exited the backdoor screaming with the exhilaration of it all, while Prince rode around in the parking lot on his bike. Months later, Prince tweeted, “2015 was the best year yet, if only for that 45-minute version of FREEURSELF.”

Prince’s relationship to his musical followers (he called them family) was something special and Samantha can testify to this first-hand. He knew them by name, literally. He interacted with them almost daily on Twitter, and Samantha was often tweeted by Prince. She saved them all and since his passing has been gathering tweets from fam all over the world, in hopes these can someday be published as a tribute to Prince, extraordinarily beautiful human that he was, while at the same time extraordinarily super-human. “Prince loved watching us dance. We all fed off each other’s energy,” she explains. She remembers a time there was a private party at Paisley Park for the Art Official Age contest. About 40 people were in attendance, and the next day everyone wrote thank you notes for Prince and the band. Prince’s assistant told them that each one of the notes were read personally by Prince. In fact, she told them he paid attention to everything. He knew who the YouTuber's were, the ones that would record reviews of his albums and shows, and he watched them religiously. Surely, there has never been and never will be someone so prolific as Prince, yet so in touch with their faithful followers. He was a kid at heart, as Samantha recalls a young girl that came to Paisley Park shows with light-up shoes and they would blink as she’d run around the soundstage [we learned at Celebration 2017 that the little girl was his hair dresser, Kim Berry’s, daughter]. Prince was so tickled by the lights he had some of his own custom-made. So that’s how his now-famous light-up shoes came to be: He was inspired by a child.

Samantha entered the University of Minnesota in 2013 with a major in Advertising and while in college she started a blog, The Digital Gardens, which Prince tweeted a few times. “It was so inspiring when he would do that, because it made me want to be a better writer.” She’d write about experiences at Paisley Park, and others inspired by Prince and his music. Unlike other college students, she stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and she credits that to Prince. “He taught me that I could have just as much, if not more fun without it.” There is a history of addiction in her family so she knows spending most weekends at Paisley Park during her college years was her saving grace. Prince taught her how to respect herself, too. She watched the way he handled himself, and she took notes. “Once at Paisley Park when he came up to play guitar, someone had stolen all his guitar pics; he didn’t say anything or get visibly upset. He just set his guitar down and walked away. Respect was so important to him. He didn’t put up with people disrespecting him. I learned a lot from that.”

Samantha also learned entrepreneurial skills from her mentor when he decided to use peer-2-peer distribution (P2PD) to sell the HitNRun Phase 2 album released in 2015 on Tidal, with physical copies following in January 2016. P2PD allowed for distributors to obtain the CD’s for a modest fee directly from Prince and then sell for a modest profit, cutting out the middle man. Throughout college, Samantha had held down a full-time job, meaning there wasn’t a lot of money to spare to purchase CD’s in order to resell at a profit. She fashioned a strategy to take “pre-orders” and managed to gather over 400 orders with the help of social media. She made enough money to pay off some debt and put a down-payment on a car. “So, in addition to everything else Prince did for me, he helped me buy my first car,” she says with a smile. Prior to that, getting around meant hopping the bus or train, or relying on friends. After Prince passed away, a close friend of his told Samantha how Prince bragged on Samantha and her keen P2PD business skills, calling her “clever.”

January 2016 found Prince fam coming from around the world to Paisley Park for the Gala Event: Piano & A Microphone, and Samantha was there for both amazing, breathtaking shows on January 21, as well as the two nights of funk that followed. Then, off he went to take the tour on the road. The next time she’d see him would be April 16, 2016 for the quickly-scheduled Paisley Park After Dark in celebration of unseasonably warm spring weather, following the airplane incident two days earlier, after the Atlanta performance. The night of the 16th she was on her way to a friend’s house, thinking about the Piano & A Microphone tour book she planned to purchase that night at Paisley Park, as they weren’t yet available during the January show, but something was compelling her to go in the direction of Electric Fetus and make a quick stop, where she knew they were also selling the tour books. Lo and behold, as she was standing in the store she looked up and noticed Prince walking out. When she finally made it to her friend’s house, she tweeted Prince telling him she saw him at Electric Fetus. He tweeted her back saying, “Now I’m watching the [basketball] game”, to which she responded, “Don’t you have a party to get ready for?” It was to be his last party, and she’s glad she followed the pull of her heart and made that stop at Fetus, if only to be reminded of the inexplicable connection she shared with this amazing man. That night at Paisley Park she remembers him being so proud of his new piano and guitar, and even though some fellow had the nerve to bring an old-school video recorder and attempt to film him, he was in good humor as the guy was being led out by security while Prince called out, “Let him stay, that was kind of funny!” Samantha couldn’t have known it was the last time she’d see Prince. The future seemed so bright, with plans for upcoming summer celebrations, but the universe had other plans.

The news of April 21, 2016 hit Samantha hard. Unimaginably hard. Just three days before, she had driven by Paisley Park on her way to the Arboretum, four miles further down the road, and in the car with her was a friend she was working on “converting” to Prince. The Arboretum was dear to Prince as well; he’d been photographed there, and even recorded a beautiful instrumental piano piece named after this special place.  In the days that followed April 21, Samantha struggled to come to terms with the loss, slipping into a deep sadness and a lethargy she could not shake, until a certain day when she had laid down on the couch to nap, something she was doing with more and more frequency. She lay there contemplating whether to take her 4th nap of the day, when music started playing from down the hallway. Thinking how insensitive it was of her roommate to play Prince’s music so soon after his passing, she got up and walked down the hall only to realize the music was coming from her own phone, plugged in on the nightstand. It had started playing by itself…and the song? It was Prince singing, FixUrLifeUp. “Okay, I hear you,” she said out loud to him, and from that point she turned the corner and started the uphill climb.

That climb included attending a private memorial in May 2016 at the church Prince attended. She found herself sitting in the same room where she first had that conversation with him about empowering female musicians, and finally she had a bit of closure. Long-time friends shared stories about Prince’s kindness and curiosity regarding life, and what comes next. She sat near Prince’s bandmates, positioned between his assistant, Meron, and his bodyguard, Chris. After the service, she sat there watching everyone talking with each other, taking in all the emotions from the past few weeks. Chris made his rounds and then came back to Samantha, “You look like you need a hug,” he said. Samantha insisted that she was fine, but he pressed again, so she accepted what he had to offer. It turned out a warm bear hug from Chris was exactly what she needed to get her through the next few months. On a later occasion, she saw Van Jones at the Coffman Student Union on the U of M campus in October 2016, at a pre-event cocktail party. She approached him, and he noticed her bag adorned with scores of Prince buttons and the understanding between them was immediate. She was moved to tears as he briefly spoke with her, and she thanked him for bringing to light the philanthropic works Prince executed behind the scenes. She opened up and shared with him a personal story of how Prince inspired her and helped her through very difficult times in her life. This moment was another big step in the journey of healing she has been on this past year.

In May of 2017, Samantha made the final walk to receive her degree in Advertising. Four long years of hard work and sacrifice, and Prince (in spirit) walked right alongside her. In fact, his lyrics adorned her graduation cap, with a very slight modification…”All the things Sammy ever wanted to be, she was when she finished school.” -Make Your Mama Happy (Crystal Ball). Something tells me that Prince would have proudly tweeted a photo of Samantha’s graduation cap, with a humorous caption, of course. There’s no doubt he would be very, very proud of his faithful student.