Art by Angel Hawari and Stezio
Art by Angel Hawari and Stezio

It has been a dark year for music lovers. The one-two punch of losing David Bowie and Prince left a hole in many hearts.

On Saturday, July 9, artists from around Louisville and beyond will get a chance to share what those musicians meant to them when Ultra Pop hosts “The Beautiful Ones: A Tribute to Prince and David Bowie.”

Any Ultra Pop regular knows that owner Paul LePree is a hardcore Prince fan. Frequent Ultra Poppers will have seen concert footage on the big screen in the shop and heard LePree spinning Prince on vinyl. And given LePree’s propensity to chat with regulars, many probably have had conversations with him about Prince. He spoke with Insider Louisville in advance of the art show and shared his memories of growing up with a Prince soundtrack.

“I was living in Rockport, Texas, a little tiny town outside Corpus Christi. This was 1982,” says LePree, recounting the day he discovered the purple one. “I went to Walmart, which was, like, the only store you could buy cassettes, and I bought Prince’s 1999. I listened to it, and I was, like, I don’t know what this is but I like it.”

Art by Chloe Lee
Art by Chloe Lee

Until that point, the music LePree listened to was dictated mostly by his parents. He recalls hearing classic rock and things like Led Zeppelin and Neil Diamond. But LePree felt a sense of ownership in his relationship with Prince.

“It was kinda the first music I discovered that was mine,” he says.

LePree was hooked, and a few years later, he begged his parents to take him to see “Purple Rain,” even though it was rated R. He laughs when recalling the experience.

“I’ll never forget how uncomfortable I was during the sex scene with Prince and Apollonia in his bedroom,” he says, dropping the levity of voice to add, “Prince taught me how to love women, and I mean that in all sincerity.”

LePree — whose shop focuses on pop culture and filters things like nerdom, cartoons and music through a pop art lens — decided to host a David Bowie tribute shortly after Bowie’s death in January. Ultra Pop’s schedule is booked months in advance, however, so it was going to take several months for a hole to open up. He booked the Bowie show, and then on April 21, the unfathomable happened — Prince died at the age of 57.

LePree says the idea to host a dual show honoring both artists didn’t come from him. “Several people were, like, ‘Paul, why don’t you do a combination Prince and Bowie show?’”

While their musical senses didn’t often line up, there are similarities in the cultural impact the two artists made.

“Prince and Bowie are definitely two of those artists who transcended what they recorded musically,” says LePree. “Gender, fashion, individuality — both of them sent the message of, ‘Be who the fuck you want to be, sleep with whoever you want. You wanna wear makeup, you don’t wanna wear makeup, just be your self.’”

Art by Chloe Lee
Art by Chloe Lee

LePree observes that the artists were special to “outsiders, those people on the fringe.” Many of those outsiders grew up to be artists themselves, and LePree expects a big turnout for the show.

“I think it’s gonna be a lot bigger than I anticipated,” he says. “I think it’s gonna be nuts.”

You can also expect to hear some Prince and Bowie spinning at the event. LePree DJs on the side occasionally, including the yearly Prince birthday party at Meta. He’s known around the scene as Ultra Paul, and his Prince proclivities are also no secret. The day Prince died, LePree fielded multiple requests for his DJ skills and his impressive collection of Prince on vinyl.

“I had a couple good opportunities to DJ his music after he passed,” says LePree. “I played at two places that night, and for his birthday this year, they played ‘Purple Rain’ at the Palace and I DJ’ed, and then went to Meta. It really helped me get through it.”

Calls to DJ weren’t the only ones LePree got the day Prince died.

“I heard from more people than I heard from when my father passed away a couple of years ago. I heard from ex-girlfriends I hadn’t talked to in 10, 15, 20 years. People far and wide reached out to me.”

Art by Stezio
Art by Stezio

He admits he was surprised by the depth of feeling he experienced. “I never thought I would be affected by the death of somebody I don’t know, but his soundtrack was the soundtrack to so many moments in my life.”

“The Beautiful Ones: A Tribute to Prince and David Bowie,” opens Saturday, July 9, at Ultra Pop, 960 Barret Ave. The reception/party runs from 6-10 p.m., and the exhibit will be up through July 31. Submissions still are being accepted until Thursday, July 7.

If you need a little extra David Bowie and Prince in your life, check out a musical tribute planned at Haymarket Whiskey Bar on Saturday, July 16, and Sunday, July 17. Get your tickets now, as the show is expected to sell out.

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Eli Keel
Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.