Grandmaster Flash, Mutter win 2019 Polar Music Prize

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Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and music charity the Playing for Change Foundation have been named recipients of the 2019 Polar music prize. The Swedish award is considered the music world’s equivalent of the Nobel prize.

Grandmaster Flash AKA Joseph Saddler is a founding figure in hip-hop. As a DJ, he developed innovations including the backspin technique and punch phrasing, and popularised scratching. With Cowboy, Melle Mel and the Kidd Creole, Saddler formed Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs. Their 1981 single, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel, is the first documented appearance of scratching on a record. Saddler continued to release music after the group split in the late 80s.

Of his nomination, Saddler said: “It is such an honour because a lot of times in our culture, what we do as DJs gets overlooked. So for these people to say, ‘Let’s give this to someone who doesn’t necessarily use a microphone as their gift’, for me to be picked out of so many people, I am so, so deeply honoured.”

German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter began her career in the 1970s, when she was spotted as a teenage prodigy. Age 17, she made her US debut with the New York Philharmonic. Mutter is known for playing classical and contemporary work, and is a four-time Grammy winner. She described the Polar prize as a “huge honour”.

The Playing for Change Foundation is a non-profit created in 2007 to “create positive change through music and arts education”. It has established 15 music programmes in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand, with free classes in dance, instruments, languages and musical theory reaching more than 2,000 young people every week.

It also provides essentials such as food, clean water, medicine, clothing and school supplies to communities. Artists including Damon Albarn have supported the foundation’s work. Co-founder Whitney Kroenke said: “We started the project so that musicians that would not otherwise be seen or heard would have the chance to express themselves and be recognised. To be in the company of people that have made us all love music for so many years is truly an honour.”

The Polar laureates each receive 1m Swedish krona (£83,000). It is the second time in the prize’s 28-year history that the 12-member committee has nominated three laureates. The committee receives nominations from the public and the International Music Council, the Unesco-funded NGO that promotes geographic and musical diversity.

Metallica won the 2018 prize. Previous laureates include producer Max Martin (2016), György Ligeti (2004) and Joni Mitchell (1996). Abba manager Stig Anderson founded the prize in 1989.

King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the 2019 awards at a ceremony and banquet at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel on 11 June.

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