Grandmaster Flash recently became the first DJ and rapper to win Sweden’s Polar Prize, often described as the “Nobel Prize for Music.” Joseph Saddler accepted the award from the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, and said it was “in honor of every DJ, every rapper, every graffiti artist, and every break-dancer.” He was one of three laureates for the 2019 award, alongside the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the music charity, The Playing For Change Foundation.
“I come from a very small place called The Bronx,” the Barbados-born Grandmaster Flash told the banquet ceremony at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. “This thing that I did had not existed before, and I am one of many where I come from. It ended up being called hip-hop, taking the drum break from pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk, disco, R+B, and using duplicate copies of records. I would take one section and repeat it over and over again. This self-made music bed served for the break-dancers, and later, for the MC’s.”
Each laureate receives prize money of one million Swedish Kronor or about $130,000.
De La Soul’s DJ Maseo read the citation. He said: “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.” He showed that turntables and mixing consoles can be musical instruments, and his “adventures of the wheels of steel” changed the course of popular music.
Previous Polaris winners include B.B. King, Björk, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Burt Bacharach, Chuck Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, Elton John, Emmylou Harris, Ennio Morricone, Joni Mitchell, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Keith Jarrett, Kronos Quartet, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Mstislav Rostropovich, Patti Smith, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Pierre Boulez, Pink Floyd, Quincy Jones, Ravi Shankar, Ray Charles, Renée Fleming, Robert Moog, Sonny Rollins, Steve Reich, Stevie Wonder, Sting and Yo-Yo Ma. The 219 award is only the second time that three laureates have been selected. The other winners were Anne-Sophie Mutter, known as “the Queen of the Violin,” whose career started when she auditioned for Herbert von Karajan aged 13. The Playing for Change Foundation is dedicated to providing music and arts education to underprivileged children around the world.
The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by the late Stig Anderson, the publisher, lyricist and manager of ABBA. His label was called Polar Music.