The Polar Music Prize 2011 is being awarded to American poet and musician Patti Smith. By devoting her life to art in all its forms, Patti Smith has demonstrated how much rock’n’roll there is in poetry and how much poetry there is in rock’n’roll. Patti Smith is a Rimbaud with Marshall amps. She has transformed the way an entire generation looks, thinks and dreams. With her inimitable soul of an artist, Patti Smith proves over and over again that people have the power.

I was born on a Monday...

Introduction to Patti Smith's biography "Just Kids"
Chelsea Hotel, 222 W 23rd Street, New York - where Smith and Mapplethorpe moved in 1969 (Photo: Velvet via Wikimedia Commons)

Patti Smith was born in Chicago in 1946 and raised in South Jersey. From an early age she gravitated toward the arts and human rights issues. She studied at Glassboro State Teachers College and moved to New York City in 1967. There she met photographer and the “the artist of her life” Robert Mapplethorpe. The two became close and encouraged each other’s artistic endeavors.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan 1963
Bob Dylan & Joan Baez, two of Patti Smith's great inspirations, during the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963. (Photo: Rowland Scherman, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Musical influences
Chapter: First performance

First performances

In February 1971, Smith performed her first public poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church on the lower eastside, accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. In April of that year she co-wrote and performed the play Cowboy Mouth with playwright Sam Shepard. She continued to write and perform her poetry with Lenny Kaye, eventually adding Richard Sohl on piano in 1974. As a trio they played regularly around New York, including the legendary Max’s Kansas City, centering on their collective and varied musical roots and her improvised poetry.

Lenny Kaye playing lead guitar with the Patti Smith Group in 1978.
Lenny Kaye playing lead guitar with the Patti Smith Group in 1978. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye performing at the Polar Music Prize concert at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye performing at the Polar Music Prize concert at the Stockholm Concert Hall. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
CBGB, 315 Bowery, New York (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Over the years Smith has collaborated with a number of musicians including: Tom Verlaine, Blue Öyster Cult, Fred "Sonic" Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Jeff Buckley, among others.
Sam Shepard age 21 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)
Along with Blondie, Television and The Ramones, Patti Smith became a pioneer for the New York punk movement that also helped put the landmark club CBGB on the map. (Photo: Private Stock Records/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
Television, album cover Marquee Moon
Television, album cover Marquee Moon (Photo: © Elektra/Warner Music)
Chapter: Power of the words

Power of the words

Along with bands like Television, Ramones and Blondie, the Patti Smith Group became an important part of the Punk and New Wave music scene that centered around CBGB. Smith described their work as “three chords merged with the power of the word.”

Bruce Springsteen, press picture/Polar Music Prize.

Smith was signed to Arista and recorded four albums: Horses, Radio Ethiopia, Easter, which included her top-twenty hit “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and Wave,

Three chords merged with the
power of the words

Patti Smith
Veronica Maggio performing "Because the Night" at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011
John Cale from the Velvet Underground, producer of Horses (Photo: Jean-Luc via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: People have the power
"People Have the Power" Lyrics. (Photo: Published with the kind permission from Warner Chappell Scandinavia.)
Patti Smith on "People have the power" - © Polar Music Prize
Chapter: Rock n' roll belongs to the people

Rock n' roll belongs to the people

In October 1979, Patti Smith retired from the public eye and moved to Detroit. In 1980 she married Fred “Sonic” Smith and they had two children.

Patti Smith and son Jackson Smith in Stockholm 2011
Patti Smith and her son Jackson Smith in Stockholm,
© Polar Music Prize

In 1988 they recorded Dream of Life, which included the classic anthem “People Have the Power.” She didn’t tour behind the album but made a rare appearance five years later, in 1993, at Central Park’s Summerstage, where she dedicated her poems and a cappella singing to two close friends who had recently died: photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and long time musical partner Richard Sohl. The year after, in 1994, her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith passed away at the age of 45. Only a month later Smith’s younger brother Todd, who had been working as a road manager in her early career, also passed away.

Rock n' Roll belongs to the people

Patti Smith
Ola Salo, First Aid Kit, Veronica Maggio & Anna Järvinen performing "People Have the Power" at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011
Chapter: Back to music

Back to music 1990-2012

In 1995 Smith released Gone Again, a highly acclaimed meditation on passage and mortality. The following tour, on which she opened for Bob Dylan, marked her re-emergence as a performer. By 1997 a new band was formed and they recorded Peace and Noise, an album that incorporated a blend of speaking and singing in Smith’s trademark incantatory style and reflected the natural interplay between members of a cohesive group. With Gung Ho in 2000, she drew on the inspiration of spiritual and political leaders and events, while heralding the efforts of the common man. Her eleventh studio album Banga, and the first album with new material since 2004, was released in June 2012. It was recorded with Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee Daugherty at Electric Lady Studios in New York.

Grammy nominations
In 2005 Patti Smith received the prestigious "Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres" from the French state. (Photo: Appetizer via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: Bibliography


1972 – A Useless Death
1972 – Kodak
1972 – Early Morning Dream
1973 – Witt
1977 – Ha! Ha! Houdini!
1977 – Gallerie Veith Turske
1978 – Babel
1992 – Woolgathering
1994 – Early Work: 1970 – 1979
1996 – The Coral Sea
1998 – Patti Smith Complete
1999 – Wild Leaves
2003 – Strange Messenger
2005 – Auguries of Innocence

Auguries of innocence, cover of the Swedish edition

2010 – Just Kids (memoar)

Chapter: The Polar Music Prize

Stockholm August 2011

Polar Music Talks & Sessions is a two-day event taking place in Stockholm before the actual prize ceremony. These days feature exclusive interviews with the laureates, seminars and engaging conversations. The concept is based on verbal ”jam sessions” where inspiring lectures mix with trend spotting, panel discussions, debates and entertainment. Polar Music Sessions & Talks started in 2009.

Patti Smith interviewed by Jan Gradvall, Polar Music Talks
Polar Music Sessions 2011: Kajsa Grytt, Rebecka Törnqvist and Jenny Wilson discussing leadership in the music industry, moderator Petra Marklund Wagner (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Marie Ledin, CEO of the Polar Music Prize and Patti Smith (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Prize ceremony and Patti Smith speech
First Aid Kit performing "Dancing Barefoot" live at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011
Interview Patti Smith august 2012
Anna Järvinen performing "Distant Fingers" live at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011
HM The King of Sweden, Patti Smith, David Harrington and HM the Queen of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)