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Rock Star Plays Surprise Concert For Handicapped Children

March 20, 1985 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ In a surprise concert for which arrangements were kept strictly hush-hush, Prince brought his rib-rattling rock ‘n’ roll to a special audience in the Bronx on Wednesday - deaf, blind and handicapped kids from around the city.

″I felt the vibrations,″ said 20-year-old Christopher Buckland as his teacher interpreted his sign language. Buckland is deaf but had no trouble seeing the brilliant colored light beams that refracted in the dry ice vapor that clouded the stage.

No interpreter was needed to read his face. It was his first rock concert.

Prince pranced and danced his way through a nine-song set that lasted more than an hour. As in his regular shows, during the song ″Baby I’m a Star″ about two dozen kids were hauled up on stage. Many also got hugs from Prince.

The free concert was arranged last week with the Board of Education and coincides with Prince’s current six-performance series at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. But Wednesday’s concert was kept under wraps and even the kids didn’t know who they were going to see until that morning.

″We are within walking distance of about three high schools, so it’s been top secret,″ said Jane Salodof of Lehman College, where the concert was held.

Wearing a brocade suit, his signature ruffled shirt and high-heeled boots, Prince started the concert with the words ″Dearly beloved,″ the opening of his song ″Let’s Go Crazy.″ For his final encore, he sang ″Purple Rain,″ the title of his hit movie.

Flower garlands were wrapped around the microphone stands and piled atop the piano and Prince and members of his band, Revolution, threw them to the wildly enthusiastic crowd.

The kids arrived by bus and van from public schools, private institutions and United Cerebral Palsy centers around the city. Two rows of chairs in the 2,300-seat auditorium were removed to make room for wheelchairs, and many children were carried to their seats.

Sign language interpreters wearing purple T-shirts and black leather pants stood on both sides of the stage and signed the lyrics.

Prince declined to be interviewed, as he has for the past three years, about his motives for the free concert.

But Alan Leeds, Prince’s New York spokesman, said: ″This is the fifth concert like this on this tour,″ which began Nov. 4 in Detroit and ends April 7 in Miami. Prince has performed for handicapped groups in Washington, Houston, Santa Monica and Atlanta, he said.

″And quite frankly, they have not been publicized because they are closed affairs,″ Leeds said. ″He does it because he happens to get gratification out of playing for people who might not ever be able to attend a rock concert.″

″There’s no hidden motive. He gets off on it, so we do it,″ Leeds said.

″Some of them have never seen anything like it. That’s why Prince does it,″ said Roy Bennett, production designer of Prince’s road show.

Doug Henders, who was videotaping the show for Prince, said, ″These shows give us energy. It’s the spirit of giving, which is pretty rare.″

Prince has been under fire recently for not appearing with other major rock stars in the fundraising recording of ″We Are the World,″ for African famine relief. However, he wrote a song for the album.

″It was a gala appreciated by all in attendance,″ said Jerry Parker, a spokesman for the city Board of Education, which organized the concert in less than four days.

Prince helped defray the cost of putting on the show, including providing a generator because the auditorium did not have enough electricity and hiring 14 extra crew members to set up the light and sound system.

″It was a full arena show in a concert hall,″ Ms. Salodof said.