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She later said that the image Prince crafted for her made her uncomfortable and she felt coerced into it, but came to accept it. I wanted the old Diana Ross image.”After splitting from Vanity 6 and Prince prior to his leap into megastardom with Purple Rain (she was originally the film’s expected love interest, a role that eventually went to former Rams cheerleader and then-unknown TV actress Apollonia Kotero), Vanity signed with Motown.
“I did it because [Prince] told me I had to do it,” she told Aldore Colier in a 1993 interview with Jet. Her first solo album built on the sex kitten image she’d cultivated under Prince, but without his songwriting and production, the project underperformed.
I’d missed the years of Diahann Carroll and Pam Grier; as ‘80s kids, we were mostly exposed to the Ringwalds, Phoebe Cateses, and Kerri Greens, and only beginning to see Jennifer Beals and Rae Dawn Chong.
Vanity was as glamorous and as gorgeous as any iconic beauty of that generation. I’m sure a lot of young boys that grew up around that time felt the same way.
It was Prince who christened her “Vanity” (after initially daring her to go by the much more provocative “Vagina”) before building the girl group Vanity 6 around her.
This was early ‘80s, Dirty Mind-era Prince at his most sex-driven, so his new girl group was a hypersexual take on James’ own Mary Jane Girls, and they were given some of Prince’s most salacious songs—including the hit single “Nasty Girl.” The song would go on to influence later tracks from starlets like Kelis and Britney Spears; and it made stars of the group and of Vanity, who would become Prince’s muse for the next two years.
And that’s the message I bring to the people.”The death of Denise Matthews was heartbreaking for anyone who grew up a fan of R&B and black pop culture in the 1980s.
Granted, in her heyday, Vanity was a mainstream star with pop hits and movie and TV credits.
With each new bitterness dispelled formulated by this cruel cold world of which I had become its strange kind, I shut my eyes and with deep complaint muttered words of death and despair, while the hot flames seeped, boiled and burned ablaze under my bottle.
I’m sure a lot of us who grew up around that time felt the same way.
But Vanity wasn’t who Denise Matthews was in the last two decades of her life. Maybe the drugs and recklessness was how she helped Denise cope with Vanity.
She’d come to New York to pursue a career in modeling and music.
First, she found herself on the arm of “Superfreak” funk legend Rick James, but after meeting The Purple One at the American Music Awards, Denise and Prince became an item.
For most Prince fans, Vanity is probably only second to Apollonia in the canon of “Prince girls,” but she was more than just an accessory to his legendary libido.