1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. "I was born on a monday..."
3. First performances
4. Power of words
5. Rock 'n' roll belongs to the people
6. Back to music
7. Bibliography
2011 Laureate


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.


Stockholm, August 2011

The 20th Polar Music Prize festivities were held in Stockholm in August 2011.

The ceremony was preceeded by Polar Music Talks & Sessions, a two-day event taking place in Stockholm at Nalen. These days featured exclusive interviews with the laureates, seminars and engaging conversations.

The concept was based on verbal ”jam sessions” where inspiring lectures mix with trend spotting, panel discussions, debates and entertainment.

More videos from Polar Talks are available on the Polar Music Prize YouTube channel.

Polar Music Sessions 2011: Kajsa Grytt, Rebecka Törnqvist and Jenny Wilson discussing leadership in the music industry, moderator Petra Marklund Wagner.

Marie Ledin, CEO of the Polar Music Prize and Patti Smith

Patti Smith interviewed by Jan Gradvall, Polar Music Talks 2011.
The Kronos Quartet & Patti Smith

The Ceremony

Patti Smith and The Kronos Quartet received the prize from HM King Carl XVI Gustaf at Konserthuset Stockholm.

The Ceremony was held on August 30, 2011. Swedish author Henning Mankell read the citation for Patti Smith and First Aid Kit, Veronica Maggio, Ola Salo and Anna Järvinen honoured Patti Smith on stage at Konserthuset Stockholm.

Patti Smith had brought her children Jackson and Jesse Smith to Stockholm as her very special guests.

HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, Patti Smith, David Harrington from The Kronos Quartet and HM Queen Silvia at the banquet at Grand Hôtel.

Anna Järvinen performing "Distant Fingers" live at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011

Prize ceremony and Patti Smith speech
First Aid Kit performing "Dancing Barefoot" live at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2011
Ola Salo performing "People have the power."
Veronica Maggio performing "Because the night."
Interview from the Polar Music Prize 25th anniversary documentary from 2012.

"I was born on a Monday..."

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.

Chelsea Hotel, 222 W 23rd Street, New York - where Smith and Mapplethorpe moved in 1969 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Musical influences

Patti Smith's musical inspirations

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez, two of Patti Smith's great inspirations, during the Civil Rights March on Washington D.C., 1963. (Source: Rowland Scherman/Wikimedia Commons)

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. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sam Shepard age 21 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye performing at the Polar Music Prize concert at Konserthuset Stockholm.

Three chords merged with the power of the words

Patti Smith

The power of 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.”

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

Blondie press picture

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.

John Cale from the Velvet Underground, producer of "Horses." (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The legendary CBGB, 315 Bowery, New York (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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.

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

Patti Smith on "People have the power" - © Polar Music Prize

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 fellow Laureate 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.

Grammy nominations

In 2005 Patti Smith received the prestigious "Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres" from the French state. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

"Gung Ho", 2000

"Banga", 2012


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
2010 – Just Kids
2015 – M Train

Just Kids, Swedish edition. (Source: © Brombergs)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

Header photo by Baldur Bragason.

All pictures © Polar Music Prize, Photo by Patrik Österberg/All Over Press Sweden

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