Happy Birthday to Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner aka Sting – born October 2, 1951!
Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, 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 worldbeat 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.