2007 Vanity Fair Oscar Party

Prince in 2007, photo by prphotos

Birth Name: Prince Rogers Nelson

Date of Birth: June 7, 1958

Place of Birth: Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota, United States

Date of Death: April 21, 2016

Place of Death: Chanhassen, Minnesota, U.S.

Ethnicity: African-American

Prince, also known as Ƭ̵̬̊, was an American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, actor, and director. He is remembered for his amazing vocal range and ability to play multiple instruments proficiently. His songwriting is also highly acclaimed. He wrote some of the best hits for many other artists.

Prince was the son of Mattie Della (Shaw), a jazz singer, and John L. Nelson (John Lewis/Louis Nelson), a lyricist and pianist. His father performed with the jazz group the Prince Rogers Trio, under the stage name Prince Rogers. Prince was formerly married to actress and dancer Mayte Garcia. They had a son, Ahmir, who died a week after birth.

Prince’s parents were both black, as were all of his grandparents and great-grandparents. A picture of Prince’s father can be seen here. A picture of Prince’s mother can be seen here.

Genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, writing for The Huffington Post, traced Prince’s roots on both sides of his family. Among her findings are that six of Prince’s eight great-grandparents were born into slavery, and one of his great-grandmothers was possibly the daughter of her owner.

Early in his career, Prince stated that he had Italian ancestry, sometimes from his father, and sometimes from his mother. This is not accurate. In the autobiographical film Purple Rain, Prince’s character’s father is played by an African-American actor and Prince’s character’s mother is played by a Greek actress. This was not reflective of his real life heritage.

Prince’s paternal grandfather was Clarence Allen Nelson (the son of Edward Nelson and Emma Hardy). Clarence was born in Louisiana. Edward was the son of John Nelson.

Prince’s paternal grandmother was Carrie Jenkins (the daughter of Handy Jenkins and Dina/Lina Ann Phillips). Carrie was born in Louisiana. Dina was the daughter of Ashley Phillips and Martha.

Prince’s maternal grandfather was Frank/Franklin Shaw (the son of Preston Shaw and Eliza Britt/Brett). Frank was born in Louisiana.

Prince’s maternal grandmother was Lucille Bonnell (the daughter of Sam W. Bonnell and Katy/Kate F. Hale/Head). Lucille was born in Louisiana.

Sources: Genealogies of Prince –

Prince’s paternal grandfather, Clarence Allen Nelson, on the 1900 U.S. Census –

Prince’s paternal grandmother, Carrie Jenkins, on the 1900 U.S. Census –

Prince’s paternal great-grandparents, Edward Nelson and Emma Hardy, on the 1880 U.S. Census –

Prince’s maternal grandfather, Frank/Franklin Shaw, on the 1900 U.S. Census –

Prince’s maternal grandmother, Lucille Bonnell, on the 1900 U.S. Census –


Curious about ethnicity

246 Responses

  1. Mafia888 says:

    Did he bleach his skin and get plastic surgery?

  2. Mafia888 says:

    Did he have Creole in him?

  3. phaedra says:

    He is not full African. At least his recent ancestor (parent or grandparent) has to be European.

  4. savanna says:

    J W Bonnell in the 1900 United States Federal Census
    Name: J W Bonnell
    Age: 71
    Birth Date: Nov 1828
    Birthplace: Mississippi
    Home in 1900: Police Jury Ward 1, Lincoln, Louisiana
    Race: White
    Marital Status: Married
    Spouse’s Name: Martha Jane Bonnell
    Marriage Year: 1855
    Years Married: 45
    Father’s Birthplace: Ohio
    Mother’s Birthplace: South Carolina

    “Prince’s parents were both black, as were all of his grandparents and great-grandparents.” This statement is false.

    • follers says:

      It isn’t false. Sam Bonnell was black or biracial. The statement only refers to great-grandparents.

      Sam on the census:

      • savanna says:

        Sam’s father is white, so he is biracial.

        • follers says:

          When it says that all of someone’s great-grandparents are “black”, it means that they are at least part black. It doesn’t mean that both of their own parents were black. If it meant that, it would also mean that both of ”their” own parents were black, too, and so on, so no one could ever be called black unless you knew that all of their ancestry was black going back to Africa.

          That’s why I wrote, all “great-grandparents” were black, as opposed to all “great-great-grandparents”. Otherwise what’s the difference?

          It’s possible that Sam’s father was white, but I’m not totally sure. The census just calls Sam black, but that doesn’t rule it out.

          • savanna says:

            It just sounds misleading in the article

          • follers says:

            It doesn’t. Especially considering that the census says the same thing.

          • savanna says:

            A person related to Prince thru the Bonnell line said it traced back to England which is where it split with mine.
            Basically, all I know is that Prince’s mom was at the bare minimum 1/4 white, probably more.
            And that Prince’s paternal grandmother (his father’s mom) was Carrie Jenkins (see photo), daughter of Dina Ann Jenkins, who is listed as a “Mulatto” housekeeper from Georgia on genealogy records.
            He was generationally mixed.”

          • follers says:

            Of course Prince had white ancestry, like all people of African-American descent. But his great-grandparents were all black, and I’m not sure if a specific white ancestor has been verified yet.

            (“Mulatto” doesn’t necessarily mean a direct mix, btw, as I discussed with Andrew on the Jimi Hendrix page.)

          • fuzzybear44 says:


            Quote:(He was generationally mixed.”)

            Which makes him African American

          • savanna says:

            “Which makes him African American”

            African American with distant English

          • fuzzybear44 says:


            Well that’s pretty much a standard thing. I mean everyone knows that the black population here, as well as the vast majority of the black people on this side of the hemisphere, are of mixed ethnicity. I understand, if you’re just trying to be more accurate with his breakdown , but his cultural identity is still African American. That’s like a Puerto Rican taking a DNA test, and it shows Euro ancestry. Does that now mean that person is now more than Puerto Rican, or is that person still a Puerto Rican?

          • LoLo A says:


            Puerto Rico is a country, it’s not a racial identity based on just 1 continent. Puerto Rican is an ethnic identity.

            When someone is an equal mix of races, it’s unfair to say that they are just 1 continental identity, especially if the culture related to racial identity is ambiguous.

            Genetically, Prince is a mix of things. I wouldn’t call him just 1 race. African American is an identity that’s up to him to decide.

            When you have parents or grandparents who are another race (and even culture), you should be allowed to claim that, regardless of someone ascribing a racial dumping ground to your identity.

            In today’s time, African American is an out-dated category that minimizes and glosses over actual identity.

  5. savanna says:

    Prince’s great-grandfather Samuel Walter Bonnell was mixed, Sam’s father Thomas James Bunnell was white (likely of English descent).

    • follers says:

      How do they know that Sam Bonnell was the son of Thomas James Bunnell? They list Sam’s mother (presumably black) as the wife of Thomas (white), which was basically impossible, although they may not mean literally “wife”.

      Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak doesn’t refer to this ancestry of Prince. Do we know if it’s verified?

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