Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, CBE (born 2 October 1951), better known by his stage name Sting, is an English musician, singer, songwriter, and actor. He was the principal songwriter, lead singer, and bassist for the new wave rock band The Police from 1977 to 1984, before launching a solo career.
He has included elements of rock, jazz, reggae, classical, new-age and world-beat in his music. As a solo musician and a member of The Police, he has received 16 Grammy Awards (his first in the category of best rock instrumental in 1980, for “Reggatta de Blanc”), three Brit Awards, including Best British Male in 1994 and Outstanding Contribution in 2002, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Police in 2003. In 2000, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for recording. In 2003, Sting received a CBE from Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for services to music, and was made a Kennedy Center Honoree at the White House in 2014. He was awarded the Polar Music Prize in 2017.
With The Police, Sting became one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Solo and with The Police combined, he has sold over 100 million records. In 2006, Paste ranked him 62nd of the 100 best living songwriters. He was 63rd of VH1’s 100 greatest artists of rock and 80th of Q magazine’s 100 greatest musical stars of 20th century. He has collaborated with other musicians, including “Rise & Fall” with Craig David, “All for Love”, with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, “You Will Be My Ain True Love” with Alison Krauss, and introduced the North African music genre raï to Western audiences by his international hit “Desert Rose” with Cheb Mami.
Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner was born on 2 October 1951, in Wallsend, Northumberland, England, the eldest of four children born to Audrey (née Cowell), a hairdresser, and Ernest Matthew Sumner, a milkman and engineer. He grew up near Wallsend’s shipyards, which made an impression on him. At eight or ten years old, he was inspired by the Queen Mother waving at him from a Rolls-Royce to divert from the shipyard prospect towards a more glamorous life. He helped his father deliver milk and by ten was “obsessed” with an old Spanish guitar left by an emigrating friend of his father.
He attended St Cuthbert’s Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne. He visited nightclubs such as Club A’Gogo to see Cream and Manfred Mann, who influenced his music. After being a bus conductor, building labourer and tax officer, he attended Northern Counties College of Education (now Northumbria University) from 1971 to 1974 and qualified as a teacher. He taught at St Paul’s First School in Cramlington for two years.
Sting performed jazz in the evening, weekends and during breaks from college and teaching. He played with the Phoenix Jazzmen, Newcastle Big Band, and Last Exit. He gained his nickname after his habit of wearing a black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes with the Phoenix Jazzmen. Bandleader Gordon Solomon thought he looked like a bee, which prompted the name “Sting”. In the 1985 documentary Bring on the Night a journalist called him Gordon, to which he replied, “My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?” In Time in 2011 he said: “I was never called Gordon. You could shout ‘Gordon’ in the street and I would just move out of your way.”
1977–1984: The Police and early solo work
In January 1977, Sting moved from Newcastle to London and joined Stewart Copeland and Henry Padovani (soon replaced by Andy Summers) to form The Police. From 1978 to 1983 they had five UK chart-topping albums, won six Grammy Awards, and two Brit Awards; for Best British Group, and for Outstanding Contribution to Music. Their initial sound was punk-inspired, but they switched to reggae rock and minimalist pop. Their final album, Synchronicity, was nominated for five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. It included their most successful song, “Every Breath You Take”, written by Sting, in 1983.
“Even though logic would say, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re in the biggest band in the world – just bite the bullet and make some money.’ But there continued to be some instinct, against logic, against good advice, [that] told me I should quit.”
—Sting on quitting the band in 1986.
According to Sting, who appeared in the documentary Last Play at Shea, he decided to leave The Police while onstage during a concert of 18 August 1983 at Shea Stadium because he felt that playing that venue was “[Mount] Everest”. While never formally breaking up, after Synchronicity the group agreed to concentrate on solo projects. As the years went by, the band members, particularly Sting, dismissed the possibility of reforming. In 2007, however, the band reformed and undertook a world tour.
Four of their five studio albums appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and two Sting songs, “Every Breath You Take” and “Roxanne”, appeared on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In addition both songs were among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2003 the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also included in Rolling Stone’s and VH1’s lists of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.
In September 1981, Sting made his first live solo appearance, on all four nights of the fourth Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball in London’s Drury Lane theatre at the invitation of producer Martin Lewis. He performed solo versions of “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle”. He also led an all-star band (dubbed “The Secret Police”) on his own arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”. The band and chorus included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, all of whom (except Beck) later worked on Live Aid. His performances were in the album and movie of the show. The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball began his growing involvement in political and social causes. In 1982 he made a solo single, “Spread a Little Happiness” from the film of the Dennis Potter television play Brimstone and Treacle. The song was a re-interpretation of the 1920s musical Mr. Cinders by Vivian Ellis, and a Top 20 hit in the UK.
1985–1989: Solo debut
His first solo album, 1985’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles, featured jazz musicians including Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones, Omar Hakim and Branford Marsalis. It included the hit singles “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” (backed with the non-LP song “Another Day”), “Fortress Around Your Heart”, “Love Is the Seventh Wave”, and “Russians”, the last based on a theme from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite. Within a year, the album reached Triple Platinum. This album received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, and Best Engineered Recording.
Sting sang the line “I Want My MTV” on “Money for Nothing”, a 1985 hit by Dire Straits. In November 1984, he was part of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which raised money for famine victims in Ethiopia. In July 1985, Sting performed Police hits at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. He also joined Dire Straits in “Money for Nothing”, and he sang two duets with Phil Collins. In 1985, Sting provided spoken vocals for the Miles Davis album You’re Under Arrest, taking the role of a French-speaking police officer. He also sang backing vocals on Arcadia’s single “The Promise”, on two songs from Phil Collins’ album No Jacket Required, and contributed “Mack the Knife” to the Hal Willner-produced tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill. In September 1985, he performed “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The 1986 film Bring on the Night, directed by Michael Apted, documented the formation of his solo band and its first concert in France.
Sting released …Nothing Like the Sun in 1987, including singles, “We’ll Be Together”, “Fragile”, “Englishman in New York”, and “Be Still My Beating Heart”, dedicated to his mother, who had recently died. It went Double Platinum. “The Secret Marriage” from this album was adapted from a Hanns Eisler, and “Englishman In New York” was about Quentin Crisp. The album’s title is from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. The album won Best British Album at the 1988 Brit Awards and in 1989 received three Grammy nominations including his second consecutive nomination for Album of the Year. “Be Still My Beating Heart” earned nominations for Song of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. In 1989, …Nothing Like the Sun was ranked number 90 and his Police album Synchronicity was ranked number 17 on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.
In February 1988 he made Nada como el sol, five songs from Sun he sang in Spanish and Portuguese. In 1987 jazz arranger Gil Evans placed him in a big band setting for a live album of Sting’s songs, and on Frank Zappa’s 1988 Broadway the Hard Way he performed an arrangement of “Murder By Numbers”, set to “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson, and “dedicated” to evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. In October 1988 he recorded a version of Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Kent Nagano. It featured Vanessa Redgrave, Sir Ian McKellen and Sting as the soldier.
1990–1997: Greater solo success
His 1991 album, The Soul Cages was dedicated to his father, who had died. It included “All This Time”, and the Grammy-winning title track. The album went Platinum. The following year, he married Trudie Styler and was awarded an honorary doctorate in music from Northumbria University. In 1991, he appeared on Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. He performed “Come Down in Time” for the album, which also features other popular artists and their renditions of John/Taupin songs.
Ten Summoner’s Tales peaked at two in the UK and US album charts in 1993, and went triple platinum in just over a year. The album was recorded at his Elizabethan country home, Lake House in Wiltshire. Ten Summoner’s Tales was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 1993 and for the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1994. The title is a wordplay on his surname, Sumner, and “The Summoner’s Tale,” one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Hit singles on the album include “Fields of Gold” and “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You”, the latter earning his second award for best male pop singer at the 36th Grammy Awards.
In May 1993, he covered his own Police song from the Ghost in the Machine album, “Demolition Man”, for the Demolition Man film. With Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, he performed “All for Love” for the film The Three Musketeers. The song stayed at the top of the U.S. charts for three weeks and went platinum; it is Sting’s only song from his post-Police career to top the U.S. charts. In February, he won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for three more. Berklee College of Music awarded him his second honorary doctorate of music in May. In November, he released a compilation called Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting, which was certified Double Platinum. That year, he sang with Vanessa Williams on “Sister Moon” and appeared on her album The Sweetest Days. At the 1994 Brit Awards in London, he was Best British Male.
His 1996 album, Mercury Falling debuted strongly with the single “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot”, but dropped from the charts. He reached the Top 40 with two singles the same year with “You Still Touch Me” (June) and “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” (December), which became a country music hit in 1997 in a version with Toby Keith. Sting recorded music for the Disney film Kingdom of the Sun, which was reworked into The Emperor’s New Groove. The film’s overhauls and plot changes were documented by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler. She wrote of when Disney told him his songs would not be used.
Also in 1996, he sang for the Tina Turner single “On Silent Wings” as a part of her Wildest Dreams album. In the same year, his performance with the Brazilian composer/artist Tom Jobim in “How Insensitive” was in the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Rio produced by the Red Hot Organization. Sting cooperated with Greek singer George Dalaras in a concert in Athens. “Moonlight”, a rare jazz performance by Sting for the 1995 remake of Sabrina, written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and John Williams, was nominated for a 1997 Grammy Award for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture or Television. On 4 September 1997, Sting performed “I’ll Be Missing You” with Puff Daddy at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards in tribute to Notorious B.I.G.. On 15 September 1997, Sting appeared at the Music for Montserrat concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, performing with fellow English artists Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Mark Knopfler.
1998–2004: Brand New Day and soundtrack work
The Emperor’s New Groove soundtrack was released with complete songs from the previous version of the film, which included Rascal Flatts and Shawn Colvin. The final single used to promote the film, My Funny Friend and Me, was his first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Song,. Sting’s September 1999 album Brand New Day included the Top 40 hits “Brand New Day” and “Desert Rose”. The album went Triple Platinum by January 2001. In 2000, he won Grammy Awards for Brand New Day and the song of the same name. At the awards ceremony, he performed “Desert Rose” with his collaborator on the album version, Cheb Mami.
In February 2001, he won another Grammy for “She Walks This Earth (Soberana Rosa)” on A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins. His “After the Rain Has Fallen” made it into the Top 40. His next project was a live album at his villa in Figline Valdarno, released as a CD and DVD as well as being broadcast on the internet. The CD and DVD were to be entitled On Such a Night and intended to feature re-workings of Sting favourites such as “Roxanne” and “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.” The concert, scheduled for 11 September 2001, was altered due to the terrorist attacks in America that day. The webcast shut after one song (a reworked version of “Fragile”), after which Sting let the audience decide whether to continue the show. They decided to go ahead and the album and DVD appeared in November as …All This Time, dedicated “to all those who lost their lives on that day”. He performed “Fragile” with Yo-Yo Ma and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, US.
In 2002, he won a Golden Globe Award for “Until…” from the film Kate and Leopold. Written and performed by him, “Until…” was his second nomination for an Academy Award for Best Song. At the 2002 Brit Awards in February, Sting received the prize for Outstanding Contribution to Music. In June he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2003 Sting was made a Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire For services to the Music Industry. At the 54th Primetime Emmy Awards in September, Sting won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance In A Variety Or Music Program, for his A&E special, Sting in Tuscany… All This Time.
In 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, a studio album featuring collaborations with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar performer Anoushka Shankar. He and Blige won a Grammy for their duet, “Whenever I Say Your Name”. The song is based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Praeambulum 1 C-Major (BWV 924) from the Klavierbuechlein fuer Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, though Sting said little about this adaptation. The album did not have the hit singles like his previous releases.
In 2004, he was nominated for the third time for an Academy Award for Best Song, for “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” from Cold Mountain, sung in duet with Alison Krauss. The pair performed the song at the 76th Academy Awards.
His autobiography Broken Music was published in October. He embarked on a Sacred Love tour in 2004 with performances by Annie Lennox. Sting went on the Broken Music tour, touring smaller venues, with a four-piece band, starting in Los Angeles on 28 March 2005 and ending on 14 May 2005. Sting was on the 2005 Monkey Business CD by hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas, singing on “Union”, which samples his Englishman in New York. Continuing with Live Aid, he appeared at Live 8 at Hyde Park, London in July 2005.