Prince paid tribute to his former protégé Denise “Vanity” Matthews at the Melbourne, Australia concert of his Piano and a Microphone tour on February 16th, the day after it was revealed the Vanity 6 singer and his ex-girlfriend had died at the age of 57. “I just found out a little while ago that someone dear to us has passed away, so I’m going to dedicate this song to her,” Prince told the audience before performing a solo take on “Little Red Corvette.”
Given the time difference between Melbourne and Los Angeles, Prince learned of his protégé’s death just as he was set to take the stage for the first date of his solo tour. Throughout the evening, Prince admitted he was struggling with the news – “I’m trying to stay focused, it’s a little heavy for me tonight. Just keep jamming,” he told the audience, news.com.au reports – but frequently referenced Vanity in his set list.
On Purple Rain‘s “The Beautiful Ones,” a song Vanity helped inspire, Prince transformed the lyric “I’m begging down on my knees,” with “My knees” morphing into “Denise.” Later, in “The Ladder,” he changed the name of the song’s Electra to Vanity.
Prince also shared anecdotes about the singer over the course of the evening. “Can I tell you a story about Vanity? Or should I tell you a story about Denise? Her and I used to love each other deeply,” Prince said. “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.”
Later, Prince told a story about how, during a fight, he threatened to throw Vanity in a pool, only to have Vanity reply, “You can’t throw me in the pool, you’re too little.” Prince then asked his bodyguard Chick to throw Vanity in the pool. “I probably shouldn’t be telling this story, but she’d want us to celebrate her life and not mourn her,” Prince told the audience.