Prince loved Toronto and these 5 Toronto women

Prince's love of Toronto may have come through his relationship with women from the city.

From Joni Mitchell to Nelly Furtado, Prince developed strong connection to Toronto

Prince performs at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Sunday, Dec. 2, 1984. He would've just broken up with Niagara Falls-native Denise Matthews at the time. (Canadian Press)

Prince loved Toronto.

He said so himself in an interview in 2004. That was around the time he recorded an album, bought a house and reportedly went canvassing for the Jehovah's Witnesses, all in the Toronto area.

He also professed admiration for the city's cosmopolitan vibe, the (formerly) purple-clad Raptors and the now-defunct Speaker's Corner, a recorded-message booth at CityTV he said he always wanted to visit.

But a closer look at the life of Prince Rogers Nelson, who died Thursday at age 57, hints that his love for the city might have had something to do with his relationship with five women from here.

Donna Grantis

Donna Grantis, standing next to a mirror, was emailed out-of-the-blue and was asked to audition for Prince. She remained in his touring band, 3rd Eye Girl, until his death. (donnagrantis.com)
While she was living in Toronto, rock guitarist and composer Donna Grantis got an out-of-the-blue email asking her to audition for Prince's 3rd Eye Girl backing band. She was given three songs to learn, including Prince's own Purple Rain.

So she flew to Minnesota to play for Prince.

"It's just crazy because he's such as phenomenal guitar player … so I tried to copy his solos and played them in front of him," Grantis told CBC in 2013.

Later, she wrote a song, PlectrumElectrum, on Prince's 2014 studio album of the same name.

Denise Matthews

Denise Matthews, or Vanity, can be seen between her two bandmates in Vanity 6. The Niagara-born Matthews was Prince's romantic interest in the early 1980s, though he also dated Vanity 6 singer Susan Moonsie, on the right. (Warner Bros. Records)
Denise Matthews was a beauty queen and model from the Niagara region, just outside the city. She moved to Toronto in 1977 when she was a teenager and appeared in some Canadian B-movies, often nude.

It was after Prince noticed Matthews in 1980 that she became his muse — a singer, actress, girlfriend and protégé, not necessarily in that order.

Matthews took on Prince's oversexed persona, often reluctantly. He christened her with the name Vanity, but he originally wanted to call her Vagina, which he pronounced va-JEAN-ah. He wanted her to front an all-female band called The Hookers.

She rejected the ideas, though he did manage to sneak a juvenile reference to female anatomy in Matthews' band name, Vanity 6, with the "6" representing the number of individual breasts in the three-woman act.

Prince wrote and produced songs for Vanity 6, including the band's biggest hit, Nasty Girl.

Prince dreamed up a part especially for her in his epic Purple Rain movie. But by the time it came to make the film, Prince and Matthews had parted ways.

He replaced her with Apollonia Kotero, who he also inserted into the band and ultimately renamed Apollonia 6. Matthews would move to the Motown label, but never had the success she had with Nasty Girl again.

Matthews later nearly died from a crack-cocaine overdose and then became a born-again Christian, renouncing all the explicit sexuality she channeled while with Prince. Matthews died in February of kidney disease.

Joni Mitchell

The backfold of the Prince album Controversy, which inexplicably features Joni Mitchell's name. (Warner Bros. Records)
Joni Mitchell, who began her professional songwriting and performing career in Toronto, was a lifelong obsession for Prince.

"Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U's and hearts that way that he writes," Mitchell told New York Magazine in 2005.

He would speckle his career with references to Joni, as he called her. Her name appeared on the back of his 1981 album, Controversy, for no apparent reason. The Time, another band of Prince acolytes, released the Prince-produced album Ice Cream Castles, a reference to lyrics in Mitchell's Both Sides, Now.

He inserted a portion of Mitchell's song Help Me in his 1987 tune The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. And he covered Mitchell's classic A Case Of You on the 2002 studio album One Night Alone..., retitling it a A Case Of U.

In interviews, Prince praised Mitchell's 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns, gushing about how much he loved it on more than one occasion. At the time, the album was not well-received and Mitchell later said she was grateful for The Purple One's support.

Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado, shown performing during the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto, was specially invited to perform with Prince during a 2004 summer tour stop here. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Much like he did with Mitchell, Prince went out of his way to mention to the media how much he admired Nelly Furtado — the Canadian singer who scored a monster international hit with I'm Like A Bird in 2001.

It appeared the feeling was mutual, as Furtado, who had relocated to Toronto from the Canada's West Coast, sang over a sample of When Doves Cry early in her career.

He followed through on his professional crush on Furtado by inviting her on his Toronto summer tour stop in 2004. She performed an unannounced set at the Air Canada Centre for his sold-out shows there.

Manuela Testolini

Prince is shown attending a Raptors game back in January 2002, when he was married to Toronto-born Manuela Testolini. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
Toronto-born Testolini was the reason Prince could be seen courtside at Raptors games or at nightclubs like the now-shuttered C Lounge.

She may even have been the reason he recorded 2004's Musicology at MetalWorks Studio in Mississauga, Ont., during the early 2000s.

The pair reportedly met while Testolini was working for Prince's charitable foundation and were married in 2001. He bought a house in the tony and exclusive Bridle Path neighbourhood around that time.

Testolini filed for divorce only five years later, in May 2006. At the time, Prince said he did not want the marriage to fail.

Prince sold his Toronto home sometime around the breakup of the marriage, but kept making the trip from Minneapolis to Toronto up until the month before he passed away.

About the Author

Joshua Errett

Senior Producer, Features

Joshua Errett has been a reporter, editor and digital manager in Toronto since the early 2000s. He has been described as "a tornado of innovation, diligence and authenticity." Got a story idea? joshua.errett@cbc.ca

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