Singer, songwriter, and The Police frontman Sting and jazz musician Wayne Shorter, two artists who have spent a lifetime crossing borders and blending genres, found their paths merging on Thursday, June 15, when both accepted the prestigious Polar Music Prize from the hands of His Majesty King Carl XVI of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert House in Sweden.
Sting and Shorter are the latest Laureates to win the prize founded by ABBA manager, music publisher and lyricist Stig “Stikkan” Anderson. First presented in 1992, the Prize has gone to many of the world’s greatest pop and classical artists, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Ennio Morricone, Renée Fleming, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Yo-Yo Ma, Max Martin, Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, and Isaac Stern.
“I am well aware of the prestigious history of this award, the extraordinary talents of those who have preceded me and their significant contributions to the world of music,” Sting told the assembled guests and the royal family at the afternoon ceremony. “So I am both grateful and somewhat bemused by my inclusion here. I’m standing alongside Wayne Shorter, a man whose music and philosophy I have admired for many, many years.”
Shorter paid tribute to Sweden in his acceptance speech: “My appreciation for the knowledge of your country’s contribution to humanity awakened when I was quite young. While watching the films of Ingmar Bergman, and the artistry of your great actors and actresses, I realized how freely your country opened its heart to the world long before the phrase, ‘artists and doctors without borders’ came into being.”
The ceremony traditionally features Swedish artists performing the Laureates’ music. That was true for the 2017 edition, but in addition, several international artists traveled to the Scandinavian country especially to honor Shorter and Sting. José Feliciano read the citation for Sting and performed “Every Breath You Take” with Serbian-born singer Jelena Krstic. Gregory Porter impressed with “It’s Probably Me” from Sting’s 1993 album “Ten Summoner’s Tales.” Jazz singer Esperanza Spalding read the citation for Shorter and performed her own lyrics to his “Endangered Species,” originally recorded by Shorter on his 1985 album “Atlantis,” at the evening banquet, held at the Grand Hotel immediately following the ceremony at the Concert House.
The banquet began with a surprise, unannounced guest. There was a collective gasp from the audience when Annie Lennox walked out on stage, sat down at the piano and sang “Fragile.” Sting left his seat in the Wintergarden room briefly to greet Lennox backstage and thank her for the performance.
The banquet concluded with a thank you speech by Marie Ledin, Managing Director of the Polar Music Prize and daughter of the late Stig Anderson. Ledin thanked her parents, as well as the Royal Family for their support for the Prize from day one.
The ceremony and banquet followed by one day the annual Polar Talks, featuring artists, scientists and opinion-makers from around the world. Topics focused on the theme “the power of music” included the connection between music and memory; psychoacoustics – the power of sound and music to control our minds; and gender diversity. That panel, moderated by U.K.-based gender diversity consultant, executive coach and PR-strategist Claire Singers, featured Katarina Berg from Spotify, Ulrika Biesert from IKEA and Aniela Unguresan, co-founder of EDGE, a Swiss based foundation that issues certifications to organizations with gender-enlightened workplace policies.