Leisl AuVante played a server in Morris Day’s club in Graffiti Bridge, Prince’s love interest in “Gangster Glam,” and a woman reliving the birth of her baby with her family in “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
While those roles provided glimpses of AuVante and her relationship with Prince, off camera, her role in the pop superstar’s life was more enduring.
“I sing off-key, make up my own words, and don’t care who hears,” laughs AuVante, in an apt summary of her outlook on life. It’s an outlook that Prince found appealing, she says.
“I had an adventurous, rebellious spirit in me. I think Prince and I had a lot of that in common,” she remembers. “If we wanted to do something, we were going to figure out how to get it done.”
AuVante, now 50, lives in the Chanhassen area. She is still “most beautiful girl” material, with long dark hair, sparkling eyes, and a picture-perfect smile. But growing up in her hometown of Apple Valley, Minnesota, AuVante says she wasn’t considered beautiful. Her mother was of German heritage; her father, a neurologist who worked at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital, came to the U.S. from India in his mid-20s.
A self-described “book nerd,” the teenaged AuVante was on the cheerleading and dance squads. Those activities helped her to be accepted by some groups — but not by all. Boys, in particular, harassed her, she says, recalling one boy who called her “Zambian,” in a misguided attempt at racism. Despite the fact that AuVante had been modeling since age 14, when an agent discovered her walking out of the elevator with her mother in Dayton’s department store, no one wanted to date her, she says. Even in her career as a model, the color of her skin prevented her from getting jobs in 1980s Minneapolis.
“I can look Black or Puerto Rican or Indian,” she says. But what was in demand during that era was the “All-American girl,” an unspoken code for blonde hair and blue eyes. AuVante was told again and again, “You’re too exotic for this market.”
When AuVante was 16 years old, she attended a Purple Rain concert at the St. Paul Civic Center (a series of five shows took place on Dec. 23, 24, 26, 27 and 28, 1984). During the show, a man wearing a laminate approached her, saying “someone wants to meet you.” AuVante says she was “naive and unfamiliar with the dating world.” Being unsure of strangers, she refused. The man persisted in inviting her backstage until she agreed on the condition that she could bring a friend. As it turned out, one of Prince’s associates had spotted her in the crowd and wanted to meet her. AuVante was invited to join a private Christmas party following the show, which Prince hosted at the Shady Oak warehouse in Eden Prairie.
At the party, the associate was quickly edged out of the picture when “Prince saw me and swooped in,” she says. The 26-year-old Prince asked her to dance. As she accepted, a phalanx of bodyguards formed a circle around them and stood, arms crossed, facing Prince and Leisl. Apparently, Prince didn’t like anyone to hone in on his dance partners. Awkwardness ensued.
“Number one, I’m not the best dancer,” Leisl laughs. “Number two, I’m dancing with a really great dancer. And number three, there’s all these people watching me, and I’m 16.”
Despite the awkwardness, being at a party with the Prince crowd was a watershed moment for reasons that went far beyond the fact that she had been asked to dance by the world’s biggest pop star. AuVante had glimpsed what might be considered Prince’s “Uptown” come to life, a place where all races were mixing and enjoying life to the fullest.
“I felt like I had come home,” she recalls. “I was where I was supposed to be, around people who were like me, who appreciated my presence, who wanted to date me,” she says. “I went from being a very ostracized person to finding this group of people that was very open-minded and ethnically well rounded and didn’t put a lot of emphasis on what your color your skin is.”
As it turned out, Prince’s crowd would embrace Leisl for nearly a decade from the mid-80s to mid-90s, including a period when Prince was hosting regular private parties at Paisley Park and frequenting Minneapolis nightclubs. The experience of being in Prince’s circle of friends sent Leisl on the adventure of a lifetime.
Next: “The Minneapolis Sound enjoying our brief but beautiful summertime”: The Real Story Behind the Making of “Gangster Glam”