Grandmaster Flash, Anne-Sophie Mutter & Playing for Change Named 2019 Polar Music Prize Laureates

Grandmaster Flash
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for ACE Awards

Grandmaster Flash attends the Accessories Council's 21st Annual celebration of the ACE awards at Cipriani 42nd Street  on Aug. 7, 2017 in New York City. 

Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter and the music charity Playing for Change have been named the Laureates for the 2019 Polar Music Prize, to be presented by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden on June 11. The announcement was made Wednesday (Feb. 13) morning at Stockholm City Hall by Alfons Karabuda, chairman of the Polar Music Prize award committee.

Grandmaster Flash, born Joseph Saddler, sent music in a new direction when he discovered the art of manipulating sound by placing his fingers on vinyl albums, perfecting beat looping and discovering many of the iconic beats still sampled today by contemporary rap artists. Saddler’s journey began in the South Bronx when, as a child, he discovered his father’s record collection. “I took one of his albums,” Flash tells Billboard, “and I remembered what my dad did so I went over to the stereo and put the record on as opposed to using that little lever to make the arm go automatically. The music played and everybody who was home said, ‘Dad is going to kill you if he catches you.’ So I would take the record off and put it back in the sleeve and return it to the closet. Little did I know he had a categorizing system and he knew where everything was, so when he came home to play the stereo, he said, ‘Who was in my records?’ I got my ass beat and the next day when I heard the door close, I went back to that closet. He couldn’t stop me.”    

Four-time Grammy winner Anne-Sophie Mutter is a German musician who has performed the music of traditional as well as modern composers to audiences all over the world, and has world premiered 26 new works over the last 40 years. Mutter is also known for supporting future generations of musicians through her two charitable institutions. “I have very fond memories of Sweden,” Mutter tells Billboard. “A few years ago I played an entire cycle of 10 Beethoven sonatas in one day in Stockholm. By accident, I had dinner with the King a few days before. I told him I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up for the 10 sonatas. He charmingly said, ‘You will have at least four people – me, my wife and my children.’ He did attend and stayed through all three concerts.”

Mutter confesses that she did not know about Grandmaster Flash before she was informed of who the 2019 Laureates are. “I have been learning about him, watching his videos. He really is the grand master of enhancing music in a very creative way.”

The Playing for Change Foundation was founded in the U.S. in 2007 by Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson, with a mission “to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.” The foundation has created music programs in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand.  Every week in those countries, 2,000 young people attend classes in dance, musical instruments, languages and musical theory, all funded by the Foundation. Winning the Polar Music Prize “shows that the world is in tune with the same message as Playing For Change – no matter how many things in life divide us, they’re never as strong as the power of music to bring us together again,” Johnson tells Billboard. “And so being honored with something like this shows that people believe the same thing.”

The three Laureates will receive their awards from the hands of the King at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. The prizes carry individual cash awards of one million Swedish kronor ($108,030).

The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by Stig "Stikkan" Anderson, the manager and music publisher of ABBA. A well-known lyricist, he also was the co-writer on many of their early hits. The prize was first presented in 1992. Anderson died in 1997; his family has guided the prize ever since. Anderson’s daughter, Marie Ledin, is managing director.

Previous winners of the Polar Music Prize include Sting, Elton John, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, Ravi Shankar, Metallica, Ennio Morricone, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Renée Fleming, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Isaac Stern, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Gilberto Gil, B.B. King, Emmylou Harris, Yo-Yo Ma, Patti Smith, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Dizzy Gillespie, Youssou N’Dour, Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen. The prize is traditionally given to one person from the pop world and one from the classical or jazz genre. This is only the second time in the 28-year history of the Prize that recognition is going to three Laureates. In 2001, the Prize was awarded to songwriter Burt Bacharach, inventor of the synthesizer Robert Moog and classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.


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