Originally published April 3
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Deep in the WCCO film archives are hundreds, if not thousands of opportunities to travel back in time. And on one reel a treasure lay hidden, untouched, for 52 years.
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The date was April 1970. Minneapolis Public Schools educators went on strike.
WCCO restored the film to offer context to the educators strike that happened in the same district just last month.
When WCCO Production Manager Matt Liddy learned 13 minutes of video had been restored from film in 1970, he decided to give it a look.
“I grew up in Minneapolis, so all I cared about was looking at cool old buildings from the place I grew up. Did I recognize my old school? Did I recognize any landmarks?” Liddy said.
His curiosity turned into a discovery when he saw a reporter interviewing kids as teachers picked in the background next to school. And there was one young boy in particular who answered a question that left Liddy speechless.
“I immediately just went out to the newsroom and started showing people and saying, ‘I’m not gonna tell you who I think this is, but who do you think this is?’ And every single person [said] ‘Prince,’” Liddy said.
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 getting asked about the teachers striking. With a smile as his friends surrounded him, the boy who looked to be around 10 years old said: “I think they should get a better education too cause, um, and I think they should get some more money cause they work, they be working extra hours for us and all that stuff.”
It sure looked like child version of Prince Nelson, the Minneapolis kid who would turn into an international music icon. But there was one issue. The reporter never asked for the kid’s name.
“We did not get him saying ‘I’m Prince Nelson,’” Liddy said.
That set off our investigation. Right before the who boy who appeared to be Prince was interviewed, another young boy spoke. He charismatically said his name without even being asked. His name was Ronnie Kitchen.
We spent a day searching for phone numbers and addresses, trying to find a Ronnie Kitchen who would be at least 60 years old. He looked like a teenager in the video 52 years ago. 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 popped up online. There were similarities in the face 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’s a professional historian and archeologist who researches properties and landmarks around the Twin Cities. She’s also a dedicated fan of Prince who wanted to make sure other fans had trustworthy knowledge of 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’ve written a big document sort of outlining his historic journey from Minneapolis’ northside to Paisley Park and the world.”
The document is well over 100 pages long.
Zschomler said videos of Prince as a pre-teen are almost non-existent in the public eye.
“As far as video, I am not familiar with any. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist but I’m not familiar with any,” she said.
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Shortly into our interview, we showed her the video from the 1970 strike. She gasped when the boy who looked like Prince entered the frame, then a smile formed, followed by her struggling to compose a sentence when the video clip finished.
“I think that’s him, definitely. Oh my gosh. 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 where he would have been attending school in April of 1970,” she said.
Zschomler then showed us what is believed to be a sixth-grade picture of Prince the same school year of the strike. We compared it to the strike video. The hairstyle was spot on.
“There’s so much in his mannerisms and his eyes and everything that he looks like him,” she said.
Despite the evidence, we still needed someone who knew Prince as a kid. Zschomler connected us with Terrance Jackson.
“We go far back as kindergarten at John Hay Elementary in north Minneapolis,” Jackson said.
He’s a childhood friend and former neighbor who was also in Prince’s first band, Grand Central, when they were teenagers.
“Oh my God, that’s Kitchen,” Jackson exclaimed as the video began, immediately recognizing Ronnie Kitchen as a teenager. “That is Prince! Standing right there with the hat on, right? That’s Skipper! Oh my God!”
He was giddy with laughter. Then Prince began to speak. Jackson grew quiet, only saying “wow” a few times softly. By the end of the video, he was wiping tears from his eyes and laughing again.
“I am like blown away. I’m totally blown away,” he said, as the memories from their childhood flooded out.
“He was already playing guitar and keys by then, phenomenally,” Jackson said. “Music became our sport. Because he was athletic, I was athletic, but we wanted to compete musically.”
Jackson’s wife Rhoda grew up alongside them. She too couldn’t contain her laughter when she saw Prince, then heard him talk as an 11-year-old boy.
“It’s just amazing to see him, that small, that young, and hear his voice,” Rhoda said.
Our mystery regarding one of the most mysterious men in music was solved. Just a young city kid, years before he put his city and its sound on the map.
“That’s Prince, aka Skipper to the Northside,” Jackson said.
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“I think just seeing Prince as a young child in his neighborhood school, you know, it really helps ground him to that Minneapolis connection,” Zschomler said. “Even if they’re momentary glimpses into what Minneapolis meant to him, what he stood up for when he lived in Minneapolis, just helps understand that symbiotic connection he had to his hometown.”