"A Brief History of the NPG and "Celebrating Prince"
Celebrating Prince and the reunion of the mostly original members of the New Power Generation (NPG) was born out of the official Prince Tribute concert in October, 2016. The longest-running member of the NPG, keyboardist Morris Hayes, who also served as Prince's Musical Director for many years, was tapped to do the same job for the official tribute concert held in honor of the legendary artist. Hayes brought the original bandmembers back together to serve as the house band (where they were joined by many others throughout the night) for the epic musical celebration and the response was overwhelming in favor of bringing a scaled down version of the musical tribute to other cities around the world. Soon after that historic event, the band reunited and joined forces with other world class musicians, singers and artists to present their own tribute to their legendary mentor and brother, Prince.
Years of touring, recording, rehearsing, playing and performing with Prince helped to shape those alumni of the New Power Generation. Few other artists are known to have the work ethic that was a defining characteristic of Prince. Respecting the music is the philosophical approach that continues to guide the NPG today. Prince was a consumate live performer and his concerts with the NPG were legendary for the tight arrangments, stellar sound and electrifying pace. And the NPG continue to play as if their famous boss was front and center. Celebrating Prince is a non-stop musical kaleidascope of the most iconic chart-topping hits from all eras of Prince's career. Classic NPG songs like "DIAMONDS and PEARLS," "GETT OFF," "CREAM," "7," and"SEXY MF," are intermingled with songs from throughout Prince's illustrious 4-decade-long career like "1999," "LET'S GO CRAZY," "POP LIFE," "SIGN O’ THE TIMES," "PURPLE RAIN," "U GOT THE LOOK," and "KISS." All Prince music performed by the very musicians who played, toured, recorded and wrote with him for years.
In 1990, when Prince first brought the original members together to form the NPG, he drafted a press release in his own handwriting to introduce his new band to the world. Writing that his new band was his "best band ever,” this new band took him down a new path - one that was soulful, electrifying and funky! In fact, they soon became known by their fans as 'the funkiest band in the land.' It was a pivotal time for Prince - creatively and professionally.
For Prince, the term New Power Generation likely had a meaning that went deeper than the name of his new band. It seemed to represent a philosophical approach to life. A statement to the world. Although he parted ways with The Revolution in 1986, Prince recorded and toured as a solo artist for nearly four years before introducing the NPG to the world in the summer when most of the members made their live debut on the Nude Tour. (Although the NPG was also the name of his band in the film, Graffiti Bridge, which included the song, “New Power Generation” on the accompanying soundtrack album.)
“Lay down your funky weapon, come join us on the floor. Making love and music’s the only things worth fighting 4. We r the new power generation, we want 2 change the world. The only thing that’s in our way is u. Your old fashioned music, your old ideas, We’re sick and tired of u telling us what 2 do. We r the New Power Generation.....” ( Prince )
The NPG went on to make their recording debut in 1991 on the wildly successful and critically acclaimed, “Diamonds and Pearls” album – which spawned more hits on the Billboard charts than any other Prince album released since Purple Rain.
Music critics around the world expressed their excitement about Prince’s new musical direction with the NPG. Most reviews of Prince & the New Power Generation’s “Diamonds & Pearls” pointed to the musical synergy between him and his new band – such as this Spin Magazine review of ‘D&P’ in a look back at staffers’ favorite Prince albums written after his death in 2016:
“Prince was in a transitional place in 1991 … and was in the midst of a creative renaissance following the Nude Tour with his newly-formed band, the New Power Generation. After the critical and commercial success of ‘Sign o’ the Times’ in 1987, Prince had started moving back towards the funk and R&B of his earlier years after several albums of more pop/rock-oriented material. But it wasn’t until 1990 that he began putting together his new “official” backing band. With Diamonds and Pearls, Prince married his new band to Bomb Squad-style hip-hop production and New Jack Swing (a distinctive mix of R&B, dance, and hip-hop that had emerged in 1987) while also delivering his most accessible set of pop songs since 1984’s Purple Rain.
“’Gett Off’ hit radio that summer, a supercharged sex anthem laced with booming bass, an instantly catchy flute, and a Public Enemy-style “kettle whistle” sax loop. It announced that Prince was back — and not just with a new album. This was Prince’s brand of hard funk and dance filtered through hip-hop aggression and edge, a raunchily aggressive track that served as announcement that Prince still understood the times — and he could grasp what was happening in R&B/pop, meld it into his own sound, and still be Prince….
“’Thunder,’ the album opener, is a straightforward melody buried under an ornate production that features o throwing in synth-sitar loops, heavy guitars, and hard drum beats — establishing the album’s sonic trademarks — before it explodes into a coda showcasing some of Prince’s virtuosity. It’s more confident than almost anything on Graffiti Bridge but unlike a lot of Prince’s classic album openers, it’s merely a musical appetizer for what follows."
Fast forward to October of 2016 at the acclaimed official Prince Tribute Concert in Minnesota when Morris Hayes – who is best known for being the longest-running member of the NPG - along with members of both the original NPG and those from later configurations and others in the Prince family of musicians took the Excel Energy Center on a wild purple five-hour ride.
The feedback from the fans was that the official tribute concert was both exhilarating and healing. “Exactly what we needed” was a typical comment from the fans. As a result, Morris, Sonny, Tommy, Tony, Damon and Levi met to discuss an official reunion in order to bring a live celebration of Prince and his music to 'fams' throughout the world. Their intent: to honor their boss, their mentor and his music. Thus, the birth of "Celebrating Prince," a musical performance with alumni of the NPG was underway.
The configuration of the band may change with each segment of the "Celebrating Prince" tour but always with NPG alumni making up the majority - if not the entire band. At the core is Morris Hayes (MD and keyboards – joined the NPG in 1992), Tony Mosley (guitar and vocals – joined the NPG in 1990), Kirk Johnson (drums – joined the NPG in 1990), Damon Dickson (percussion, background vocals and dancer – joined the NPG in 1990) and others – Tommy Barbarella (keyboards - joined in 1990), Levi Seacer Jr. (guitar- joined in 1990), Sonny Thompson (bass - joined in 1990), Michael Bland (drums - joined in 1990), Chance Howard (keyboards), Mono Neon (bass), Mike Scott (guitar), Ida Nielsen (bass), Donna Grantis (guitar), Andrew Gouche (bass), Kat Dyson (guitar), Keith Anderson (sax), and the Hornheadz (1990-1996) have all joined them on live performances in the past year. And Homer O'Dell, the guitarist for the Grammy-nominated Mint Condition, has joined them as well when work schedules have not allowed for other NPG guitarists to perform on a particular date or tour.
After touring with several different guest vocalists during their first year out, the band found its official lead singer in the soulful and charismatic MacKenzie - an LA-based singer from a small town in Virginia. With his incredible range, commanding stage presence and powerful vocals, MacKenzie has wowed the audiences and critics alike. Even more important, the 'fams' quickly embraced him. MacKenzie's immense talent coupled with his unique and reverent approach to the songs never strays into an impersonation. Instead, his own unique artistry shines through in a way that we think Prince would approve. Other guest vocalists continue to join MacKenzie and the NPG. To date, they have been joined by Prince's life-long friend and musical collaborator, Andre Cymone, along with former NPG vocalist and keyboard player, Kip Blackshire for a short European tour this past summer. Other former NPG vocalists - such as Shelby J., Marva King, and Liv Warfield - have joined them for special performances and the Grammy-nominated, former NPG singer, Tamar Davis, has plans to tour with the band in 2018. Other special guest artists may occasionally join them - just as the very talented artists Bilal, Candy Dulfer, and Ana Moura did last summer.