How Prince Gave Ballet Star Misty Copeland Her Big Break

Pop star phoned dancer out of the blue in 2009, putting her on path to major stardom

Prince, the 1980s pop icon who died Thursday at age 57, played mentor to many women over the years. But perhaps no one benefited more than ballerina Misty Copeland.

Last year the 33-year-old was vaulted to the A-list after American Ballet Theatre made Copeland the first African-American principal dancer in its 75-year-history.

But the classically trained ballerina was an unknown in 2009, when she got a call early one morning informing her that Prince wanted to speak with her.

“I was literally still waking up,” she told New York Magazine. “‘What? Prince who?'”

It turned out that the “When Doves Cry” singer/songwriter was looking for a ballerina to cast in the video for his song, “Crimson and Clover.”

Prince flew her out to Los Angeles for the shoot, which Copeland recalled as relaxed, at least by ballet’s rigorous standards. “After every take, I’d ask him what he wanted, but he said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,'” Copeland told New York.

And Prince’s sponsorship didn’t end there.

The music star encouraged PBS interviewer Tavis Smiley, with whom he had struck up a friendship, to have Copeland on as a guest. Smiley interviewed Copeland in February 2011.

“Little did we know she would become such a superstar, but as usual Prince had a perfect eye for talent,” Neal Kendall, Smiley’s executive producer at the time, told TheWrap. “It was not about him, it was about how he could help someone he felt was worthy gain attention.”

Other women who were mentored by Prince — and sometimes linked romantically to the pop star — include Vanity, Sheila E. and Carmen Electra.