Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, Africa’s premier diva Angélique Kidjo and one of the world’s most performed classical composers, Arvo Pärt, were honored as Laureates at the royal Polar Music Prize ceremony and banquet in Stockholm tonight. Blackwell, Kidjo and Pärt’s son Michael accepted their prestigious awards from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf at the Scandinavian city’s Grand Hotel.
The Polar Music Prize was first presented to Paul McCartney and the Baltic States in 1992 after it was founded and funded by Stig “Stikkan” Anderson, manager of ABBA and a songwriter in his own right, as well as a music publisher and label owner.
At the early evening royal ceremony, Blackwell, Kidjo and Arvo Pärt’s son Michael all gave heartfelt acceptance speeches. Blackwell told the audience of over 300 people, “There is nothing easy about the act of creating music…There is only one question – what is more important? To be heard or to hear? When you listen to others, you find the space to understand their many possibilities. It allows you to bring forth what is already there….My hope is that we all continue to make music, to use music as a shared human endeavor that evokes joy and delight and connects communities and generations together in a language of harmony. That I hope, is my legacy. With all those I have worked with, over the last 50 years.”
After Kidjo received her prize, she said, “I started my career at the age of six when my dear mother shoved me on stage in front of a live audience. I was so scared that I could feel my whole skeleton shaking. But the audience started to laugh and clap. It made me feel good, it made me feel at home. Since that day I haven’t left the stage!” Kidjo then credited fellow Laureate Blackwell for changing her life when he signed her to Island Records in the 1980s. “I had sent my music to every record company in Paris. No one was interested, no one cared.”
Then the African activist Mamadou Konté sent it to “someone in Jamaica who showed true passion for my work, signed me right away and started me down the path to success. This person was Chris Blackwell. He has allowed me to build these bridges between all the beautiful music and peoples of the world, so that we can celebrate our common humanity.”
Speaking on behalf of his father, who sent a video statement from his home in Estonia, Michael Pärt said, “My father would like to express his heartfelt gratitude to the Polar Music Prize committee, as well as to all the musicians and listeners who have supported his music throughout the years. Arvo sends his love to all of you here tonight. My father’s music is a reminder of…the things that unite us rather than divide us. It is a call to love, to empathy, and to understanding.”
The ceremony and the royal banquet that followed was filled with performances from artists celebrating the Laureates. Swedish singer/songwriter Lisa Ekdahl and Lebanese trumpet player Ibrahim Maalouf performed Kidjo’s “Choose Love” from her 2021 album Mother Nature while Kidjo sang along and got up to dance from her seat in the front rows. Later, Kidjo spontaneously jumped up on stage to dance along to the Marseille-born Beninese singer Ysee’s performance of Kidjo’s composition “Agolo.”
One of Sweden’s most popular male singers, Benjamin Ingrosso, impressed the audience with his powerful rendition of “Wild World,” from the songbook of one of Blackwell’s most successful signings, Cat Stevens. As he sang the last notes, Yusuf/Cat Stevens rose up from the audience and embraced Ingrosso on stage.
Swedish singer/songwriter Anna Ternheim, performed “Love Is The Drug” by another of Blackwell’s most celebrated signings, Roxy Music. The band’s guitarist, Phil Manzanera, applauded her performance from his vantage point in the company of the royal family.
Near the end of the hours-long affair, Polar Music Prize managing director Marie Ledin, the daughter of Stig Anderson, paid tribute to her visionary father for creating the prize, as well as her late mother, Gudrun. She also thanked Kidjo for providing the recipe for the incredibly delicious dark chocolate cake with whipped Tonka ganache, blackened apricots and fresh raspberries that was served for dessert. Ledin also thanked the royal family for their decades-long support of the Prize, as well as her brothers Lasse and Anders for their continuing work with the Prize.
Blackwell, Kidjo and Pärt join a long list of Laureates who have been awarded the Prize over the last 31 years, including Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, B. B. King, Ennio Morricone, Sting, Renée Fleming, Elton John, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Quincy Jones, Joni Mitchell, Yo-Yo Ma, Max Martin, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Patti Smith, Wayne Shorter, Björk, Metallica, Diane Warren, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Grandmaster Flash and Isaac Stern.