1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. It all started with a song
3. The founders
4. Songs around the world
5. The Playing For Change Foundation
6. The Playing For Change Band
2019 Laureate

Playing ForChange

The Polar Music Prize 2019 is awarded to The Playing For Change Foundation dedicated to providing music and arts education to underprivileged children around the world. In 2002, co-founders Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke created the Playing For Change movement from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The organization established the foundation in 2007 as a way to give back to the communities of the musicians they met along their journey. Since then, it has grown into a global project with 15 music schools and programs around the world that have impacted the lives of over 15,000 children and their surrounding communities. The Playing For Change Foundation shows how music can be used to inspire, build bridges between people, create positive change, and conditions for peace.


Whitney Kroenke, Mark Johnson, Grandmaster Flash, Anne-Sophie Mutter

Anne-Sophie Mutter, Grandmaster Flash and The Playing For Change Foundation received the Polar Music Prize 2019 at a ceremony at the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm in June 2019. Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke (founder of The Playing For Change Foundation) attended the event, as well as Anne-Sophie Mutter and Grandmaster Flash.

Several artists honoured the Laureates during the evening; Mapei, Danny Saucedo, Stran, Ambra Succi, Extended Family, Cecilia Zilliacus, DJ Cheza, DJ Eka Scratch, Esther Kirabo, Jelassi, Svante Henryson, Hansine Pellbäck, Siri Henryson, Joel Henryson, Isak Dennholt, Vilma Ogenblad, Alicia Savbäck, Migdal Strings and students from Lilla Akademien. Host of the evening was Swedish mezzo-soprano and journalist Boel Adler. The banquet was aired on TV4 in Sweden.

A Laureate dinner was held at Hesselby Slott on the night of the Laureates' arrival to Stockholm and a pre-party at CF Hill the night before the ceremony.

Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke also participated at Polar Talks and were interviewed on stage by Swedish journalist Ammie Bramme Sey.

Laureate of 2018, Dr Ahmad Sarmast from the Afghanistan National Institue of Music read the citation for Playing For Change.

Mark Johnson at Hesselby Slott

Polar Talks 2019

Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke from Playing For Change receive the Polar Music Prize

It all started with a song

The PFC mouvement was created in 2002 when Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke started travelling the world with a small film and a recording team. They developed a mobile technique for recording and filming musicians live outside, playing or singing the same song, and edited it into one performance. This first global recording of the classic Stand by me (made famous by Ben E King in the 60s) reached a massive audience on Youtube and the concept ”Song around the world” was born.

Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke together with a (very) young Playing For Change musician.

The Song around the world version of Stand by me.

The Founders

Mark Johnson Grammy award-winning producer/engineer and award-winning film director. For the past 20 years, Mark has worked with some of the biggest names within music such as Keith Richards, Polar Music Prize Laureate Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Bono, and many more. Mark has held keynote speeches at the United Nations, TED Global, and the World Economic Forum in Davos to name a few. 

Whitney Kroenke, choreographer, dancer, and actress, co-founder of the Playing for Change Foundation. Whitney holds a Bachelor of speech in Theater from Northwestern University where she worked as a choreographer, dancer, and actress. She has done choreographer for musicals and works with creative arts focusing on social change. Whitney is the Executive Director of the foundation. 

Whitney and Mark at the Polar Music Prize pre-party at CF Hill in Stockholm, June 2019.

Interview with Whitney and Mark on CGTN America.

In 2009, the first album was released with ”Songs around the world” from the first years of the movement. 

First album of Songs around the world.

Song around the world: Cotton fields

Song around the world: Pemba Laka

Song around the world: Lean on me.

The Playing For Change Foundation

Throughout their travels, the team met many musicians in different parts of the world. Some of them from underprivileged communities, to which the Playing For Change mouvement wished to give something back. After the making of two documentaries about the project, Playing for Change: A Cinematic Discovery of Street Musicians, and Playing For Change: Peace Through Music, the team decided to create the Playing For Change Foundation. The Foundation offers music and arts education by building schools across the world, often located in marginalised areas.

Meet Ishowri Kulu, student at the Mitrata Home in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Pupils at the École de musique de Kirina, Mali (Source: © Playing For Change)

Today, the foundation has fifteen programs across eleven countries: Mali, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand.

The programs are always led by local village and community leaders, teachers and staff.

Classroom at the Star School Music & Sports Program in Masaka, Rwanda (Source: © Playing For Change)

Khlong Toey Music Program, Thailand (Source: © Playing For Change)

The PFC Band

The PFC Band features musicians that the movement has met through the years of travelling, recording and filming, and is regularly touring the world to spread the word of the basis of the Playing For Change foundation.

Illustrious musicians such as David Crosby, Dr John, Jack Johnson, Keith Richards, Little feat., Bono, Manu Chao, Damon Albarn and Tinariwen have all joined or supported the movement as well in one way or another.

The Orchestra Sinfónica Juvenil Batuta, which is part of the Polar Music Prize Laureate El Sistema Nacional de Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles, is also part of the great community of Playing For Change musicians. 

The PFC Band live in Brazil.

The first Song around the world, Stand by me, performed live by the PFC Band.

Music can teach you how to respect and be with each other like a family.

Somed, music student at the Bizung Music and Dance in Tamale, Ghana

The PFC band featuring Little Feat performing Dixie Chicken.
The Orchestra Sinfónica Juvenil Batuta featuring in the Song around the world La Tierra Del Olvido

The content of this article is presented here as it was published in 2019.

Header photo and portrait by © Playing for Change.

All pictures from Polar Talks, the ceremony and the banquet by Annika Berglund, © Polar Music Prize.

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