The 2017 Polar Music Prize is awarded to the singer, musician and composer Sting, real name Gordon Sumner, from Wallsend in Northumberland. Sting grew up in a shipyard town in northeastern England. As a child his thoughts and dreams roamed as far as the ships that sailed from his town. Internal and external travel has also characterised his music. As a member of the trio The Police, and later as a solo artist, Sting has never sat back and rested on his laurels; he has put down his anchor in more musical harbours than perhaps any other artist of his generation. As a composer, Sting has combined classic pop with virtuoso musicianship and an openness to all genres and sounds from around the world. Sting is a true citizen of the world, who has also been indefatigable in using his position as an arena-filling artist to promote human rights.
Gordon Sumner was born right outside of Newcastle, England, in 1951. He started his musical career playing bass with local jazz, dixieland and progressive rock bands such as The Newcastle Big Band, The Phoenix Jazzmen, Earthrise and the locally famous Last Exit, while working as an english and maths schoolteacher. A fellow musician in the Phoenix Jazzmen gave him the nickname Sting, inspired by a black and yellow striped shirt, a nickname that would tag along through the whole forthcoming career.
Sting met drummer Stewart Copeland from progressive rock band Curved Air and moved to London in 1977. Stewart Copeland and Sting formed The Police, at the time together with guitarist Henri Padovani. They started playing shows mostly in punk venues like The Roxy, Marquee, Vortex and Nashville in London. Their first own release, ”Fall out” came out on IRS, Copeland’s own label, in 1977.
Henri Padovani was replaced by guitarist Andy Summer, who had a background in jazz, rock and psychedelia but who had also played with a wide range of pop, rock and psychedelia artists, from the Animals to Neil Sedaka.
The three different musical backgrounds of the trio merged into a very unique sound for the time, with influences from progressive rock to punk, jazz, reggae and psych. After a year of hard work and several self-managed tours in the UK and the US the band finally hit the charts with their first album Outlandos d’Amour and the hit songs ”Roxanne”, ”Can’t stand losing you” and ”So lonely” – whose popularity hasn’t declined since. At the turn of the decade, the Police was one of the most influential bands on the international pop scene with a very unique sound at the time.
The Police split up in 1984 after the big Synchronicity world tour, and Sting started to work on his first solo album. He picked a group of jazz musicians to form his band, all young and promising from the US jazz scene; Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Omar Hakim, Darryl Jones, Janice Pendarvis and Dolette McDonald. The dream of the blue turtles was released in 1985.
The rehearsing for a series of shows at the Theatre Mogador in Paris, France was documented in the 1985 documentary Bring on the night. This was an important milestone in Sting’s career, being his first solo appearance after The Police. The concert at the Mogador was also recorded and released as a live album 1986.
1987’s Nothing like the sun added hit singles and landmark singles to Sting’s solo career, consolidating him as being one of the world’s biggest artists at the time.
During the 80s, the solo songs were more political than the songwriting within The Police, and Sting appeared more and more in political and human rights stances. Sting even got himself banned from Chilean radio thanks to ‘They Dance Alone’, a haunting song that resulted from his meeting with some of South America’s “Mothers of the Disappeared”. In 1988 Sting joined the Amnesty International “Human Rights Now!” tour alongside Tracey Chapman and Polar Music Prize Laureates Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour for several huge fundraising concerts.
The Rainforest Foundation
The Rainforest Foundation was founded in 1989 by Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, after they saw first-hand the destruction of the Amazon Rainforests, and the devastating impact it had on the lives of the indigenous people who lived there. Today the foundation is based in the UK and in the US, but operate all over the world.
Together they have held 18 benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness for our planet’s endangered resources. Since its inception, the Rainforest Fund has expanded to a network of interconnected organizations working in more than 20 countries over three continents.
The confirmation of a worldwide artist
The 90s started out with the album The Soul Cages, where Sting had returned to his childhood memories for inspiration, shortly after the passing of both his parents. The album got followed by Ten Summoner’s Tale and it’s Top 20 tracks ”If I ever lose my faith in you” and ”Fields of Gold.”
At the same period, Sting also got involved in several successful motion picture soundtrack projects: In 1993 he had been approached to write the theme song for “Lethal Weapon 3″, and wrote “It’s Probably Me” together with Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen, a world wide hit single. A reworking of The Police’s “Demolition Man” followed for the film of the same name, as did the recording of several jazz standards for the “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Sabrina” soundtracks. “Valparaiso” from the album Mercury Falling was featured in the movie White Squall and together with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart he also wrote the smash hit All for love, for the Three Musketeers soundtrack.
Finally, the 90s ended with Sting’s early work with the Police being brought into the light for younger generations. Puff Daddy’s and Faith Evan’s reworking of “Every Breath You Take”, re-named “I’ll Be Missing You” to the memory of hip hop artist Notorious B.I.G was released in 1997. The song won a Grammy award and sold over 8 million copies, one of the biggest single sales of all times.
In parallell with his music career, Sting has been seen in several movies and plays all through the 70s and 80s. He made his debut in The Who’s Quadrophenia from 1979, playing one of the leaders of the mod gang.
He has since then appeared in more than 15 films, executive produced the critically acclaimed A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and in 1989 he was the main character in Bertold Brecht’s and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny opera on Broadway, joining his musicality to his acting.
A classic excursion
In October 2006, Sting released ”Songs from the Labyrinth”, a new aspect in his career as it highlights his interest in the work of Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland (1563–1626). The album features the talents of virtuoso lutenist Edin Karamazov. Sting explained, “I’m not a trained singer for this repertoire, but I’m hoping that I can bring some freshness to these songs that perhaps a more experienced singer wouldn’t give. For me they are pop songs written around 1600 and I relate to them in that way; beautiful melodies, fantastic lyrics, and great accompaniments.”
The album was a critical and commercial success topping, it was the best selling classical album of both 2006 and 2007 on the Billboard end of year chart.
An accomplished author, Sting published a memoir entitled Broken Music in 2003, which spent 13 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list. In 2007, he released Lyrics, a comprehensive collection of lyrics accompanied by personal commentary and photos.
Yet another new kind of writing was the TONY-nominated musical The Last Ship, inspired by his memories of the shipbuilding community of Wallsend in the North East of England where he was born and raised. The show, with music and lyrics by Sting and book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, ran on Broadway in 2014 and 2015.
57th & 9th
Sting’s twelfth solo studio album, 57th & 9th, his first pop/rock project in over a decade, was released in 2016. The ten-song collection represents a wide range of Sting’s musical and songwriting styles from the ferocious, Road Warrior-style imagery of “Petrol Head,” to the anthemic, “50,000” and the raucous, guitar-driven first single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You.” The album was recorded with Sting’s long-time collaborators Dominic Miller (guitar) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), plus drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Guns n’ Roses), and guitarist Lyle Workman with backing vocals by the San Antonio- based band The Last Bandoleros.