GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Grammy's are planning something big to honor Prince as part of this weekend's star-studded awards show. The music icon's death last April shocked fans all around the world. As music tributes poured in, a key member of his New Power Generation band didn't say a word. Greensboro native Shelby Johnson was devastated.
And now, for the first time, she's opening up about her special bond with Prince.
"He was my brother; he was my teacher. He was someone who wanted to help me," said Johnson.
Long before she started working with Prince, she was little Shelby Johnson. "Little church Shelby," as Johnson joked with WFMY News 2's Tracey McCain.
Johnson was 4-years-old when she started singing in the Gospel Choir at St. James Baptist Church. Still a diva, just not famous yet. That is until 2006 when she auditioned for Prince.
"Out of the bank, like floating really comes Prince. He walks up, he goes, you're a great singer. And just floats away," laughed Johnson.
The audition blew Prince away.
He gave the sultry songstress a job and a new name. He called her Shelby J. And together they would sing on some of the biggest stages in the world. Up first, Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
"I had on an outfit and it was like all black because the twins were going to wear all black," remembered Johnson. "He was like, 'I want you in all white. They won't see you.'"
So there she was, up front and center in all white singing right next to Prince.
Shelby J joined the NPG just a month before that, the Super Bowl was her first major show.
"The amount of gratitude that I feel towards that man. He gave me a worldwide fan base and platform. He could have had me singing behind the speakers in the back. Nobody was coming to see Shelby; everyone was coming to see Prince. But he made sure Shelby J was on front street. He made sure I was right beside him."
Shelby J says Prince not only supported her solo career, he stamped it.
"When I was going through a lot of my life changes and transitions, Prince was like, you've got to go write and put it into your music and that's what I did."
Johnson's latest album is a hit. Good 2 Know, produced by Sabastion is the first single off her fourth coming album due out in March.
Her favorite songs off the album are SuperPower Produced by Phil Lassiter and Moved On.
"I'm so proud of this music because I put so much into this," said Johnson.
It's Prince's support that pushed her to this moment. And it's that same support that keeps her going, even though she's lost her best friend.
"When I found out that Prince had transitioned, I went into shock, really. I didn't know what to think. I just crumbled. I was on the floor and that was just the truth," said Johnson.
Shelby J.'s story continues this Sunday night after the Grammy Awards. She opens up about Prince's death, their friendship and a special tribute planned at Paisley Park in his honor. Watch for that part of her story Sunday night at 11 p.m. on WFMY News 2.
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