Caran Menardy is known throughout Harlem for her colorful hair and appearance, but April 21 she is known for her purple blazer, a white ruffled blouse and a purple Afro wig.
Last year, street vendor Menardy celebrated the life and legacy of Prince after his passing, and she plans to make it an annual event.
Menardy’s usual position outside of the Apollo Theater becomes her canvas as she covers everything in purple and Prince apparel and paraphernalia.
The morning of Prince’s death, Menardy had the urge not to go to work, but she fought through. She sells hats, jewelry and sunglasses when the weather permits.
“I was trying to set up my table and I saw some employees running out of the Apollo Theater, and they were looking up at the marquee,” said Menardy. “So I looked up, too, out of curiosity. When I looked I saw, ‘In loving memory of Prince.’”
Although Prince was Menardy’s second favorite artist after Michael Jackson, the news stopped her in her tracks.
“I walked away from the table and I shut everything down,” said Menardy, a mother of three. “I ran home and got music, a boom box, my DVD collection of Prince and came outside. I was just out there feeling sad by myself. I was sitting there in disbelief, depressed, and all of a sudden I saw news vans.”
Menardy had recently reconnected with her love for Prince weeks before his death.
“It’s crazy because the month before Prince died, this funny feeling came over me,” said Menardy. “All of a sudden I missed watching all of his videos. I started to collect Prince DVDs. I had no idea Prince was going to die.”
The St. Lucia native was introduced to Prince’s music when she came to New York at the age of 14. Her sole purpose when she came to the United States was to meet Michael Jackson.
“Michael Jackson is No. 1 in my heart,” said Menardy. “I always knew my two favorite artists were Michael Jackson and Prince, but Michael Jackson was more of my childhood. When I came to New York I started to learn about Prince. When I began watching [Prince’s] performances and listening to his music, he became the second, next to Michael, in my heart. Some people said they were rivals, but I never really cared because they were just too different.”
To Menardy, Michael Jackson and Prince filled two different voids in her life.
“I always knew I liked Prince because he is different and unique,” she said. “Everything about him took me by storm, because I loved the look and everything about him. Michael had his own category. I had two spots in my heart for Prince and Michael, they’re each in their own bracket.”
Although Michael Jackson and Prince were different in style and artistry, Menardy loved them equally and visited both of their houses after their passing.
“I bought a plane ticket [to Minnesota] and booked a hotel next to Paisley Park,” said Menardy. “I spent a whole week at Paisley Park. I was there every day. I brought flowers, sat at the gate, and I just spoke to Prince. I told Prince I always wanted to meet him and I never got a chance to, but now I’m here. I felt his presence. He knew I was there.”
She also felt Michael Jackson’s presence at his childhood home in Gary, Ind., where she was welcomed and conversed with Michael Jackson’s parents and children. In her recreated “Bad” outfit, Menardy had fainted in the cab and was tended to by Michael Jackson’s cousin, Keith Jackson.
“The spirit of Michael was moving me to Gary, Ind.,” said Menardy. “When we pulled up to the house I fainted. Michael Jackson’s cousin was at the gate and asked me if I needed water. I began to tell him that I’m from New York and don’t know anyone in Gary, but something was pulling me to come here, to where it all began. He told me out of all the fans he spoke to that day, I moved him the most. I was then invited inside the house for a tour and met Catherine, Joe, Paris, Blanket and Prince. I asked them to please accept my condolences and I sat and talked with them one-on-one. There was no security or bodyguards. We just sat and mourned.”
Menardy believes she is doing a service to the community by reminding everyone of Michael Jackson’s and Prince’s accomplishments. She does not want them to be forgotten.
“The real true fans remember, but the people who don’t know, when they see me out there they remember,” said Menardy. I’m out there playing music to remind them. The fans love me. If I don’t set up the Apollo does nothing. If I don’t decorate sidewalk the day will go by and people wouldn’t even realize. When I’m there the fans feel like they have a place to celebrate. They all surround my table, dancing, listening to music. They’re all happy. So instead of being sad on that day, it’s a celebration. We’re celebrating his life and his legacy.”
Menardy does not feel the need to expose the Apollo Theater for accepting praise they do not deserve, but when asked by fans or tourists, she does take credit for her work.
“When Prince died I draped the whole sidewalk in purple with signature boards,” said Menardy, a former student of the Weist-Barron School of Television and Commercial Acting Inc. “I started it all. At the end of the day the Apollo gets all the credit. I’m not the one to say, ‘No it wasn’t the Apollo,’ but if people ask I tell them it’s me.”
However, Menardy has never received any backlash from the Apollo about her memorials because of the crowd she draws.
“The Apollo likes when I’m out there because I bring the people,” she said. “All of the management know me and greet me when they see me. But the minute people start showing up and the news vans come, the Apollo changed their marquee to ‘Apollo Celebrates Prince.’
Prince was one of Menardy’s biggest influences. He inspired not only her style but her personality. Prince’s “craziness and wildness” was embedded in her.
“I get a lot of attention for my wild, crazy hairstyles,” said Menardy as she sported a neon pink bob haircut. “My uniqueness is Prince inspired. He didn’t care about what people thought. He did what he wanted to do. That is me. I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks. If I want to come out here with purple, green, yellow hair, I will wear it proudly.”
Menardy added, “[The opinions of others] do not matter. That is the part of Prince that is instilled in me. He never cared about what anyone had to say about him. My presence and style inspires a lot of people as well, but everything I do is from the heart. I do it because I want to.”
All of the tributes Menardy arranges are done purely for the fans and those who want to celebrate instead of mourn. There have been occasions when law enforcement tried to interfere, but she just wants to share a piece of her heart with the community.