Prince Gets Poetic With Ingrid Chavez
Throughout his impressively eclectic and prolific career, Prince was largely known as a guy who could — and often did — act as a one-man composer and band. But he was often defined by his collaborations just as clearly as he was through anything he did on his own, and his creative partnership with poet/songwriter Ingrid Chavez is a perfect case in point.
The two met at a personal and professional crossroads for Prince — crossing paths in late 1987, as he was reaching his decision to abandon his Black Album project. Impressed by her poetry, he brought Chavez into the Paisley Park fold, making her one of the many protégés he adopted over the course of his career; during the final month of the year, he brought her into the studio and played while she read her work. Five tracks they recorded -- "Elephant Box", "Slappy Dappy", "Jadestone", "Whispering Dandelions" and "Heaven Must Be Near" — made their way onto her 1991 debut album, May 19, 1992.
In the meantime, Prince had plenty of other projects to juggle — including Lovesexy, the record that took shape after the Black Album was ushered into the vault shortly before its scheduled release date. Recorded in late 1987 and early 1988, the album featured a spoken-word intro from Chavez, whom he dubbed "The Spirit Child."
Hear Ingrid Chavez Perform "Heaven Must Be Near"
"It was a period of creativity for both of us, and we were inspired by each other," she later told Rolling Stone. "Stepping into his world was like a fairy tale. Being exposed to his creativity and spiritual epiphanies was unreal. When I met Prince, he was unshaven, wore casual clothes. It was like we ran into each other on the playground. It was magical. He seemed so relaxed in that period."
Their chemistry spilled over onto the big screen with Graffiti Bridge, the 1990 Prince film in which he chose her to play his love interest. Although she confessed to feeling out of her depth — as she told Rolling Stone, "I'm not an actor" — her association with the star seemed to be leading to bigger and better things; it was while filming Bridge that she ended up working with Lenny Kravitz on "Justify My Love," a song later recorded by Madonna for her Immaculate Collection compilation.
But as the record industry giveth, it can also take away — as Chavez discovered when she wasn't credited as a writer on "Justify My Love" despite having written, in her estimation, the bulk of the lyrics. Telling Entertainment Weekly that Kravitz was "was obsessed about getting it the same" as her original demo, she alleged that he only gave the track to Madonna because the song would "make more money" with her vocals on top. Although the credits were quickly amended, the whole affair left Chavez with a sour taste.
"I left when I had my kids," she told Rolling Stone of her decision to walk away from the music business. "But it got really ugly when the 'Justify My Love' litigation was going on. Prince was very upset that Virgin gave Madonna my song without my permission, and I was told not to say anything. Prince called me one day after hearing it on the radio and said, 'Ingrid, what is up with that 'Justify My Love' song? That song is you.'"
As with a number of musicians ushered into Prince's flock, Chavez may not have remained in his orbit for long, but he left a lasting impact. Reeling after the news of his sudden passing in 2016, she told reporters that his absence still felt "like a dream" and insisted that although they'd long since parted ways creatively, he was still a major influence.
"This person who is — has been such a major part of my life ... he's no longer here," said Chavez. "He saw creative potential in people that some people may not have seen in themselves."