Grandmaster Flash, Anne-Sophie Mutter & Playing for Change Founders Receive Polar Music Prize in Sweden

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Grandmaster Flash and Anne-Sophie Mutter pose on the red carpet during the 2019 Polar Music Prize award ceremony on June 11, 2019, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Grandmaster Flash, one of the architects of hip-hop; Anne-Sophie Mutter, the virtuoso violinist; and Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson, co-founders of the Playing for Change Foundation music and arts charity, all accepted the prestigious Polar Music Prize from the hands of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a ceremony held at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm on Tuesday (June 11), immediately followed by a royal banquet for more than 300 guests.

These Laureates are the latest honorees to win the prize founded by ABBA manager, music publisher and lyricist Stig “Stikkan” Anderson. Anderson petitioned the Nobel Prize committee in the late 1980s to add a music award. When his idea was rejected, Anderson created his own award: the Polar Music Prize.

In accepting the prize, Grandmaster Flash acknowledged his mother for encouraging him to study electronics and his father for inspiring him with his impressive collection of records, which he wasn’t allowed to touch -- but did when his dad wasn’t home. Talking about his childhood growing up in the south Bronx, Flash said, “Where I came from … music had no color. Great music was just great music.”

In her acceptance speech, the German-born Mutter acknowledged Queen Silvia of Sweden as a role model for her work “securing the mental, physical and emotional safety of children,” and then cited another Swedish heroine, author Astrid Lindgren. “Growing up as an adolescent girl, Pippi Longstocking [was] a role model role in my life -- the strong-willed, independent, witty, stubborn young girl … determined to find her own path in a creative way in life and living her own dreams. That was exactly what I wanted, living my own dreams, daring to be different, and at the time I read Pippi Longstocking … that was really not to be taken for granted as a girl and as a woman.”

Playing for Change co-founder Kroenke told the assembled guests, “Everyone here knows the power of music that cannot only heal, but motivate; that it cannot only give opportunity, but lift us out of what holds us down. We see it every single day in the work that we do.” Co-founder Johnson then thanked “the millions of people who watched our videos online and felt something, felt more connected to their humanity, because that’s how we change the world: with inspiration. And music is the key.”

The citation for Grandmaster Flash, spoken by Vincent Mason, better known as Maseo of the iconic hip-hop trio De La Soul, read in part, “Grandmaster Flash is a scientist and a virtuoso who has demonstrated that turntables and mixing consoles can be musical instruments … [He] changed the course of popular music. Some 40 years later, the musical form and the hip-hop culture that Grandmaster Flash helped to create, in the ruins of the South Bronx in the mid-1970s, has grown into the largest music genre, hip-hop, in the United States and the world.”

The citation for Mutter, spoken by Frank Briegmann, CEO of the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, read in part, “With her Stradivarius under her chin, Anne-Sophie Mutter is not just one passionate and risk-taking musician -- she is also a storyteller. ... With her passionate commitment to justice, Mutter demonstrates the power and key role of music in the world.”

The citation for Playing for Change, spoken by 2018 Polar Prize Laureate Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan Institute of Music, credited the organization for growing “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.”

Marie Ledin, managing director of the Polar Music Prize and daughter of the late Stig Anderson, thanked the royal family for its continuing support of the prize and added that she and her brothers Lasse and Anders wanted to honor the memory of their parents.

The royal ceremony and banquet followed the annual Polar Talks, featuring presentations and panel discussions, as well as onstage interviews with all of the laureates.

First presented in 1992, the prize has gone to many of the world’s greatest pop, classical and jazz artists, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Ennio Morricone, Sting, Renée Fleming, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Yo-Yo Ma, Max Martin, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, Wayne Shorter, Björk, Metallica and Isaac Stern.