Kashif may have started an R&B dynasty, but it was Prince who made an art of the concept of grooming artists after the George Clinton/Parliament era. Prince’s first protegee might be one of his least recognized in retrospect.
Sue Ann Carwell was not exactly a household name. Even when the 17 year old’s debut album was new few outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul area had even heard of her. Her music was more or less a snapshot of Princes’ rapidly evolving sound between the Controversy and 1999 time periods.
With plenty of adult contemporary overtones, Sue Ann sounds less the idealized Prince sound we associate with the post 1999 period and more like the Prince of the For You era. “I wanna be the one”, one of Sue Ann’s singles features horns and the kind of bass associated with mid tempo R&B from the mid to late ’70s.
Prince wanted Carwell to call herself Suzy Stone, but Carwell’s insistence on using her real name might have been the reason for Prince’s limited involvement.
Perhaps in developing his model for proteges, Sue Ann only features 3 to 5 songs that sound Prince influenced. For an associate who had worked with him for years, mostly in the background, his influence was mostly indirect.
Despite being talented, Carwell’s voice was not one that stood out when she sang the jazz tinged adult contemporary material on this album. Also, much of it was not the then contemporary Prince sound as much of the material was likely written by him at an earlier point in his rapid evolution as a artist.
The slow and mid tempo material potentially offered some insight to some of the alternative musical directions that Prince may not have used on his own pre-1999 records. This may have been the beginning of Prince writing or re-writing specifically for others as his fame developed.
The kind of tender love song that Carwell sang were not typical of Prince, or at least the nasty Prince that made songs like “Uptown”, “Head” or “Why U Wanna Do Me So Bad”. There was little of the funk and sass associated with Prince with the exception of tracks like “Let Me Let You Rock Me”.
Carwell did have the vocal chops that could have placed her in the same category as established performers like Denise Williams who was making a similar kind of post disco music. In fact, it was the more disco oriented songs like the Georgiro Moroder produced “My Baby, My” where Carwell seems to find her groove as a Donna Summer alternative. At times she even sounds like Vesta Williams.
Either way when Carwell made a dance song (with or without Prince’s influence), she began to take on some distinction. Unfortunately, her reign as the Prince protege of the moment would be short. After leaving the Prince camp, she struck out on her own and recorded through the ’80s and into the ’90s.