On the fourth anniversary of Prince’s death, CBS aired Let’s Go Crazy: The Grammy Salute to Prince, a Maya Rudolph-hosted special featuring an assortment of talent paying homage to one of the most beloved and most difficult artists to cover in the history of popular music. It’s a credit to the late icon’s talent that while numerous people scored smash hits with his compositions, generally speaking, listening to someone sing a Prince song tends to leave you thirsting for the source material.
Even if that were the case with the Tuesday (April 21) broadcast (filmed in late January, in case you were wondering why no one was social distancing), several luminaries managed to stun with their takes on the Purple One’s catalog. Here’s who stood out.
Gary Clark Jr. & H.E.R.
Opening the show with (what else) “Let’s Go Crazy,” the furious joy of their affection for the source material was palpable. Near the end, when Clark unleashed a scorcher of a guitar solo, H.E.R. hilariously waved her hands over his guitar as if it were too damn hot. But honestly, she was just as fiery during the cover, despite hiding behind the icy cool of those sunglasses.
Decked out in white vinyl pants, the silky-toned crooner took on one of Prince’s most effortless vocal performances and did it justice — no minor achievement. Miguel’s libidinous, barely restrained take on “I Would Die 4 U” set a high bar for the evening that few would reach.
Usher, Sheila E. and FKA Twigs
Backed by Sheila E. on percussion (a consistent presence throughout the night), Usher – bedazzled in a glittery aqua blazer and crisp white button down – gave a slow, rich start to his performance with “Little Red Corvette” before segueing into “When Doves Cry” with FKA Twigs taking the stage to demonstrate her lithe choreography on the pole. By the time Usher hit “Kiss,” FKA had abandoned the pole to sidle over to Ush; when she kicked over his mic stand, he expertly picked it up with his foot to deliver the opening squeal of the song before fully giving himself over to the funk.
Gary Clark Jr. & Sheila E.
If you’re gonna cover a less-renown (but still classic!) song from an iconic artist on a tribute concert special, you better tear it to shreds. Well, luckily Gary Clark Jr. is more than capable of that. Delivering the psych-tinged fuzz blow-out “The Cross” with Sheila E. on percussion, Clark was one of the few performers who truly reached the transcendent ability of Prince to sublimate himself while on stage in order to let the music shine. This wasn’t karaoke; it was channeling.
Mavis Staples with The Revolution
Mavis Staples – who appeared as Melody Cool in the 1990 sequel(ish) to Purple Rain entitled Graffiti Bridge — was the penultimate performer on the 2020 Grammy Salute to Prince. The soul/gospel icon poured her formidable vocals, tested and tried by decades of authentic living, into “Purple Rain,” demonstrating that a time-worn yet masterfully controlled vocal is no less affecting than a youthful one. And when The Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin stepped in front to blast the iconic guitar solo into the stratosphere, those who didn’t have purple tears on their faces might as well have black souls.