When Sheena Easton met Prince, the two vocalists and songwriters were already hugely successful solo artists in their own right.
They first met in 1984 and developed a solid working relationship that lead to their collaboration on four hit singles.
Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis in June 1958. He wrote and performed music from the age of seven, learning how to play his dad’s piano. He also learned how to play guitar, keyboards, synthesiser, bass, drums and percussion, before winning his first recording contract at the age of 17 with Warner Bros.
Easton was born Sheena Shirley Orr in April 1959 in Bellshill, Scotland. As the youngest of six children, she made her first public appearance at the age of five, when she sang Early One Morning at a 25th wedding anniversary celebration.
She shot to stardom after appearing in the first British reality TV music programme, The Big Time: Pop Singer, in 1976. The show was devised, produced and narrated by Esther Rantzen and led to Easton eventually signing for EMI Records.
Her first single, Modern Girl, released in February 1980, charted at number 56 and achieved silver status. Her second single, 9 to 5, was a massive hit, peaking at number 3 in the UK singles chart and establishing Easton as a major pop star.
Prince and Easton first met in 1984, when they were both recording at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles. At the time, they shared a sound engineer, David Leonard. Prince was known for building new bands from scratch, or working with relatively unknown acts, but he changed his usual habit after hearing Easton sing and expressed a desire to work with her. Their collaboration led to two top 10 hits, Sugar Walls and You Got the Look, the top 40 single The Arms of Orion and a dance chart hit, called 101.
In a newspaper interview, Easton said when she arrived at the studio one day, Leonard told her Prince had sent over a track for her. Prince had seen Easton on The Tonight Show the previous night and said right away that he wanted to write something for her.
He sent over Sugar Walls, along with his telephone number, telling Easton if she wanted to record it to give him a call. Easton contacted Prince and they started working together in the studio. She said they got on really well from the outset and always had fun, making each other laugh.
Sugar Walls peaked at number nine and seemed to be a one-off, but the two stars collaborated again with You Got the Look three years later. Easton described how Prince encouraged her to write songs, but didn’t mince words with his criticisms.
She said she used to walk round with a notepad, writing down ideas and lyrics. Prince would often grab the notepad and provide a critique on her efforts. He would tell her, “That verse sucks!” if he didn’t like what she was working on, or would tell her to finish it off if he thought it was good.
They wrote a few songs together – although the first, called La, La, La, He, He, Hee, ended up as a B-side. The ballad, The Arms of Orion, featured Prince and Easton trading lines in the verse and harmonising on the chorus. Easton said she had sent the lyrics to Prince. He liked it and added the music. It was used on the Batman film soundtrack.
Easton also appeared in Prince’s 1987 concert film, Sign o’ the Times, when they sang You Got the Look as a duet. The apparent chemistry displayed between Prince and Easton while singing led to continual rumours that they were dating, but Easton always denied this. She said later she didn’t know him as well on a personal level as the fans thought, but she did know that he loved to write music and produce records.
Prince continued to have a hugely successful career, with a global following, until his death at the age of 57. He won eight Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for his film Purple Rain, six American Music Awards and a Golden Globe. His most famous song, When Doves Cry, re-charted at number eight on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, 32 years after its original release.
Easton launched her acting career in 1987, when she appeared in the US crime drama, Miami Vice, playing a singer named Caitlin Davies. She continued to work in America and became a big star there.
On returning to her homeland in 1990, she performed at The Big Day festival in Glasgow, but it was reported that when she started speaking in an American accent, she received a somewhat hostile reception from the crowd.
She has continued to sing and record and in 2015 embarked on a tour of symphony concerts with guest vocalists. In 2017 and 2018, she starred in the stage musical, 42nd Street, as Dorothy Brock. She has won Grammy Awards and a Billboard Music Award and remains a respected artist today.
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