There is a memory I have from childhood. It’s the last week of school, and my best friend, Christa, and I are at recess. She has a cassette player and we are listening to a tape that she took from her sister’s room. I remember sitting there on the grass and just being wowed. It is unlike anything I have ever heard. Keyboards build, a guitar teases, a woman starts singing, followed by a male, then by another male who takes over the song. The three join together for the chorus, and then the magic words, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1999.” What an idea! In 1983, 1999 seemed so far in the future. Christa and I added up how old we would be, what our lives would be like, if we would still know each other. Little did I know that 27 years later, I would be in such a position to get very close to the man who wrote and sang those then futuristic words.
As the Exhibitions Registrar for the Missouri History Museum, I get to see and handle all objects going on exhibit. When I found out that America I AM: The African-American Imprint exhibit was coming to the History Museum, I was anxious to see the object list. Imagine my sheer joy at discovering that Prince’s purple symbol guitar was coming! I could not wait for installation day. When the day finally came we opened the guitar case (lined in purple velvet, of course) and I clapped my hands because I was so excited! Gently, I lifted the guitar out of the case. It was smaller and yet heavier than I expected. While it’s not the same as meeting Prince in person (which if that day ever came I truly believe I would not be able to form a coherent sentence), I think this is much more intimate and personal. Musicians' instruments are their means of communicating their thoughts and emotions to us. They're a direct connection to them. Although all of the objects in the America I AM exhibition are important and meaningful, we each can interpret them in different ways. What is important to one might not be for someone else, and so forth. That to me is the power of the object. I have a running list of my favorite objects, and with each exhibit that list gets longer and longer. This one tops my list.
—Amy Berra, Exhibitions Registrar