Celebrating an Innovative Music Legend

Innovative Music Legend

Industry Associate Professor De Angela Duff (far right) moderated a panel on Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times. Panelists left to right: Zaheer Ali, Anil Dash, Miles Marshall Lewis, and Elliott Powell.

The 30th-anniversary celebration of Prince’s legendary film Sign ‘O’ the Times held recently at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering served as an ode to the complex and masterful artist. Enthusiasts gathered in Downtown Brooklyn (with siblings traveling all the way from Chicago to attend) to commemorate the legacy of the iconic musician. The evening, co-sponsored by soulhead, NYU Tandon, Louella Productions, and New Power New York (NPNY), featured a panel discussion moderated by Industry Associate Professor De Angela Duff, who co-directs Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media (IDM) program, followed by a screening of the film. Panelists included Zaheer Ali, an oral historian at Brooklyn Historical Society who teaches an NYU course on Prince; entrepreneur, activist and writer Anil Dash; music journalist Miles Marshall Lewis, and Elliott Powell, who teaches critical race, feminist, and queer theory at the University of Minnesota.

Participants praised the work as a masterpiece that “makes plain in so many ways the complexity of Prince and the pure genius of Prince as a songwriter and producer,” in the words of Powell. The panelists also discussed fond childhood memories of their first encounters with Prince’s music and the ways in which it changed their lives. (Lewis’ recalled seeing Prince perform live almost a dozen times, and Dash recounted his struggle to understand Prince’s raunchy and socially aware lyrics at a young age.) It was a night filled with nostalgia, laughter, and a deep appreciation for Prince’s artistry.

Panel discussion participants left to right: Industry Associate Professor De Angela Duff (center) Flanked by Panelists Left to right: Zaheer Ali, Anil Dash, Miles Marshall Lewis, and Elliott Powell.

NYU Tandon Industry Associate Professor De Angela Duff (center) flanked by Prince scholars

“I was proud and honored to be able to host the 30th-anniversary panel and screening of Prince's Sign ‘O’ The Times at NYU Tandon, where we pride ourselves on invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship,” Duff said. “Prince was the epitome of all three. He worked with Van Jones to create the organizations, #YesWeCode and Green For All. Prince, an early and avid adopter of the internet, conversed directly with his fans in AOL private chatrooms way before Twitter or Facebook. He was also at the forefront of recording, lighting, and stage technology. Roger Linn's Linn LM-1 Drum Machine, the first drum machine to use digital samples of acoustic drums, is intrinsically tied to and essentially synonymous with Prince and the sound he created.”

She continued, “Prince’s shrewd business sense is a blueprint for continuous improvement and experimentation. In 1994, way before Beyonce’s visual albums, he released his music in an interactive form. After he initially left Warner Bros. in 1996, he constantly tested several distribution models involving old and new media. Also, before diversity became a ubiquitous term, Prince’s roster of band members and staff consisted of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions. Prince has always been a reminder to me to constantly transform. In fact, one of his very last tweets was, ‘I am #transformed.’"

Duff explained why she found Tandon a fitting place to organize an event honoring a musician that many would not readily associate with engineering: “There are a lot of parallels to Prince and his legacy of creativity and what we are trying to instill in our students regarding technology. In Integrated Digital Media, we are constantly transforming our research at the intersection of creative practice and engineering to experiment and push beyond what is currently possible with technology.” Prince did the same.

Watch the Panel Discussion

Judy Lee
College of Arts and Science
B.A. in Sociology, Class of 2018