Originally published on 3
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Deep within the WCCO film archives, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to travel back in time. And a treasure lay hidden on a cylinder, untouched, for 52 years.
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The date was April 1970. Minneapolis Public School educators went on strike.
WCCO restored the film to provide context of the educators’ strike that took place in the same county last month.
In 1970, when WCCO executive producer Matt Liddy learned that 13 minutes of video footage had been restored from the film, he decided to check it out.
“I grew up in Minneapolis, so all I was interested in was looking at cool old buildings from where I grew up. Did I recognize my old school? Did I spot any landmarks?” said Liddy.
His curiosity turned into a discovery when he saw a reporter interviewing children while teachers picketed in the background next to the school. And there was one little boy in particular who answered a question that left Liddy speechless.
“I immediately went to the newsroom and started showing it to people and saying, ‘I’m not going to tell you who I think that is, but who do you think it is?’ And every single person [said] ‘Prince,'” said Liddy.
We didn’t have the right equipment to hear the film. A specialist helped us extract the audio. We then heard the boy speak after being asked about the striking teachers. Smiling as his friends surrounded him, the boy, who appeared to be about 10 years old, said, “I think they should get a better education too, because, um, and I think they should get some more money, because they work, they’re working overtime for us and all that stuff.”
It sure looked like a kid version of Prince Nelson, the kid from Minneapolis who would become an international music icon. But there was a problem. The reporter never asked the child’s name.
“We didn’t make him say ‘I’m Prince Nelson,'” Liddy said.
That sparked our investigation. Just before the boy who appeared to be the prince was interviewed, another boy spoke. He charismatically said his name without being asked. His name was Ronnie Kitchen.
We spent a day looking up phone numbers and addresses trying to find a Ronnie Kitchen who was at least 60 years old. In the video 52 years ago, he looked like a teenager. But the phone numbers and addresses we found were dead ends.
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How about a picture? A yearbook photo showing Prince as a fifth grader has surfaced online. There were similarities in facial structure, but Prince would have been a sixth grader in the interview we found. We needed an expert, which led us to Kristen Zschomler. She is a professional historian and archaeologist who researches properties and landmarks around the Twin Cities. She’s also a devoted fan of Prince who wanted to make sure other fans have reliable information about where he grew up in Minneapolis, where he went to school, basically his life before he became a superstar.
“They called him Skipper,” she said, as she showed us a family photo of Prince as a toddler. “I have written a large document detailing his historic journey from the north side of Minneapolis to Paisley Park and around the world.”
Zschomler said videos of Prince as a teenager are almost non-existent in the public domain.
“As far as video goes, I don’t know anyone. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I’m not aware of any,” she said.
Shortly after our interview, we showed her video of the 1970 strike. She gasped as the boy who looked like Prince entered the picture, then a smile formed, followed by her struggle to form a sentence as the video clip was over.
“I think he is, definitely. Oh my God. Yeah, I think that’s definitely Prince,” she said.
Another element of the video caught her eye in the background.
“This definitely looks like Lincoln Junior High School, which is where he would have gone to school in April 1970,” she said.
Zschomler then showed us what was believed to be a sixth grade picture of Prince from the same school year of the strike. We compared it to the strike video. The hairstyle was just right.
“There’s so much in his mannerisms and his eyes and everything that makes it look like him,” she said.
Despite the evidence, we still needed someone who knew Prince as a kid. Zschomler brought us together with Terrance Jackson.
“We go way back as a kindergarten at John Hay Elementary in north Minneapolis,” Jackson said.
He is a childhood friend and former neighbor who was also in Prince’s first band, Grand Central, as a teenager.
“Oh my god, this is Kitchen,” Jackson exclaimed at the beginning of the video, instantly recognizing Ronnie Kitchen as a teenager. “This is prince! Stand up right there with the hat up, right? This is Skipper! Oh my God!”
He was dizzy from laughing. Then Prince began to speak. Jackson went silent, only saying “wow” softly a few times. At the end of the video, he wiped tears from his eyes and laughed again.
“I’m overwhelmed. I’m totally blown away,” he said as memories of their childhood flooded in.
“By then he was already phenomenal at playing guitar and keyboards,” Jackson said. “Music became our sport. Because he was athletic, I was athletic, but we wanted to compete musically.”
Next to them, Jackson’s wife Rhoda grew up. She too couldn’t help but laugh when she saw Prince and then heard him speak as an 11-year-old boy.
“It’s just amazing to see him, so small, so young, and to hear his voice,” Rhoda said.
Our mystery of one of music’s most mysterious men has been solved. Just a young city kid years before he put his city and its sound on the map.
“This is Prince, aka Skipper to the Northside,” Jackson said.
“I think seeing Prince as a little kid at his neighborhood school, you know, it really helps him find that connection to Minneapolis,” Zschomler said. “Although these are only glimpses of what Minneapolis meant to him, what he championed while living in Minneapolis, it only helps to understand the symbiotic connection he had with his hometown.”