“She was an inspiration to me, just like she was to all the ladies that followed,” she told The Associated Press. “She was a pioneer, a strong woman, she was a diva, the princess of funk … the audiences absolutely adored her.”
Kotero replaced Vanity in the 1984 movie Purple Rain, but did not meet her until the late Eighties. The women had fallen out of touch in recent years, but Kotero said they kept up with one another on social media.
Vanity, whose real name was Denise Matthews, had begun her career as a model but after meeting Prince at the 1980 American Music Awards, she launched a music and acting career with help from the singer-songwriter. He helped her put together a trio, Vanity 6, and produced and wrote most of their 1982 self-titled debut. She was in a relationship with Prince at the time but broke things off with him in 1984. “I needed one person to love me, and he needed more,” she told People that year.
Prior to their breakup, she was supposed to star in Purple Rain alongside Prince, but they ended up severing all ties. Prince found Kotero, whose real name is Apollonia, in a casting call and positioned her as the frontwoman of Apollonia 6, a group whose other two members previously sang in Vanity 6. The group fell apart in 1985.
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Kotero told The AP that she still owns the Rolling Stone issue that featured Prince with Vanity on the cover. “[When I saw it], I thought, I wish I could do that someday,” she said. “I want to be like them; I want to be special like them.”
Prince also paid tribute to Vanity at a recent Melbourne concert, where he dedicated “Little Red Corvette” in her honor. “Can I tell you a story about Vanity? Or should I tell you a story about Denise?” he said at one point. “Her and I used to love each other deeply. She loved me for the artist I was, I loved her for the artist she was trying to be. She and I would fight. She was very headstrong ’cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that.”