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.

Chapter: Songs around the world

A language of the soul

Whitney Kroenke, co-founder

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. (Photo: © Playing For Change)
The Song around the world version of Stand by me


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. 

Interview with Whitney and Mark on CGTN America.

Songs around the world

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
Lean on me
Cotton fields
Pemba Laka
Chapter: The PFC foundation

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.

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 (Photo: © Playing For Change)
Pupils at the École de musique de Kirina, Mali (Photo: © Playing For Change)
Khlong Toey Music Program, Thailand (Photo: © Playing For Change)
Chapter: 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.

Music has an incredible way of overcoming boundaries and shrinking distances between people.

The Playing for change foundation
The PFC Band live in Brazil.
The PFC Band rehearsing.
The first Song around the world, Stand by me, performed live by the PFC Band.

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 featuring Little Feat performing Dixie Chicken.
Song around the world, Grateful dead's Ripple, featuring, among others, Bill Kreutzmann, the Grateful dead's drummer, and the legendary David Crosby.
The Orchestra Sinfónica Juvenil Batuta featuring in the Song around the world La Tierra Del Olvido

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 Polar Music Prize Laureate Playlist


Polar Music Prize dinner @ Hesselby Slott
Polar Music Prize Pre-Party 2019 @ CFHILL
Polar Music Prize Pre-Party 2019 / Mr A @ CFHILL


The week started with the Polar Talks at Spegelsalen, Grand Hôtel in Stockholm. Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, founders of the Playing For Change Foundation was interviewed by Amie Bramme Sey.

(Photo: Annika Berglund/© Polar Music Prize)
(Photo: Annika Berglund/© Polar Music Prize)
(Photo: Annika Berglund/© Polar Music Prize)
Polar Talks 2019: Polar Music Prize Laureates from the Playing for Change Foundation
Polar Talks 2019: interview with Laureate Anne-Sophie Mutter
Polar Talks 2019: exclusive interview with Laureate Grandmaster Flash


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.

The Polar Music Prize band, conducted by Svante Henryson were:
Svante Henryson – bass
Mattias Yilbar Norgren – beat box
Andy Pfeiler – guitar
Hans Gardemar – keyboard

The pink carpet
The pink carpet
The pink carpet
Citation Playing For Change: Read by Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, Polar Music Prize Laureate 2018 (Founder ANIM)
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke
Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke
Mark Johnson & Whitney Kroenke from Playing For Change receive the Polar Music Prize
Stand By Me Performed by Siri Henryson, Joel Henryson, Isak Dennholt, Vilma Ogenblad, Alicia Savbäck, Migdal Strings and the Polar Music Prize Band
Polar Music Prize medley performed by Esther Kirabo, Stran, Migdal Strings
and the Polar Music Prize Band
The Playing For Change Foundation, Grandmaster Flash & Anne-Sophie Mutter
"Stand By Me"
Polar Music Prize medley performed by Esther Kirabo, Stran, Migdal Strings
and the Polar Music Prize Band