Artist Spotlight: Sting
[lastfm]Sting[/lastfm] (born Gordon Matthew Sumner on October 2, 1951) is an English musician from Newcastle upon Tyne. Prior to a distinguished solo career, he was the lead singer, principal composer and bassist of the 1970s/1980s rock band The Police.
Sumner was born in Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, to Audrey Cowell and her husband, Ernest Sumner. He is the eldest of four children and has a brother, Philip, and two sisters, Angela and Anita. His father managed a dairy, and as a boy Sumner would often assist him with the early morning milk delivery rounds. Sumner was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, due to the influence of his paternal grandmother, who was from an Irish family.
Sumner attended St. Cuthbert’s Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne, and then the University of Warwick, but did not graduate. During this time, he would often sneak into nightclubs like the Club-A-Go-Go. Here he would watch acts like Jack Bruce and Jimi Hendrix who would later influence his music. After jobs as a bus conductor, a construction labourer, and a tax officer, he attended Northern Counties Teachers’ Training College, which later became part of Northumbria University, from 1971 to 1974. He then worked as a teacher at St. Paul’s First School in Cramlington for two years.
From an early age, Gordon Sumner knew that he wanted to be a musician. His first music gigs were wherever he could get a job, performing evenings, weekends, and during vacations from college and teaching. He played with local jazz bands such as the Phoenix Jazzmen, the Newcastle Big Band, and Last Exit.
Origin of nickname
He has stated that he gained his nickname while with the Phoenix Jazzmen. He once performed wearing a black and yellow jersey with hooped stripes that bandleader Gordon Solomon had noted made him look like a bumblebee; thus Sumner became “Sting.” He uses Sting almost exclusively, except on official documents. In a press conference, he once jokingly stated that even his children call him “Sting”. However, his wife Trudie Styler, affectionately refers to him by his real name, Gordon.
In January 1977, Sting moved from Newcastle to London, and soon thereafter he joined Stewart Copeland and Henry Padovani (who was very soon replaced by Andy Summers) to form the new wave band The Police. The group had several chart-topping albums and won six Grammy Awards in the early 1980s.
Although they jumped on the punk bandwagon early in their career, The Police soon abandoned that sound in favor of reggae-tinged rock and minimalist pop. Their last album, Synchronicity, which included their most successful song, Every Breath You Take, was released in 1983.
Early solo work
In September 1981, Sting made his first live solo appearance, performing on all four nights of the fourth Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball 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 together on Live Aid.
His performances were featured prominently in the album and film of the show and drew Sting major critical attention. Sting’s participation in The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball was the beginning of his growing involvement in raising money and consciousness for political and social causes.
In 1982 he released a solo single, Spread a Little Happiness from the Dennis Potter television play Brimstone and Treacle. The song was a re-interpretation of a song from the 1920s musical Mr. Cinders by Vivian Ellis, and was a surprise Top 20 hit in the UK.
Sting’s first solo album, 1985’s The Dream Of The Blue Turtles, featured a cast of accomplished jazz musicians, including Kenny Kirkland, Darryl Jones, Omar Hakim, and Branford Marsalis. It included the hit single “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”. The single included a fan favorite non-LP track titled “Another Day”, which to this day is one of the very few Sting songs not released on compact disc (except the live version on the “Bring On The Night”-Album). The album also yielded the hits “Fortress Around Your Heart”, “Russians”, and “Love is the Seventh Wave”. Within a year, it reached Triple Platinum. This album would help Sting garner a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. The film and video “Bring On The Night” documented the formation of the band and its first concert in France.
Also in 1985, he sang the introduction and chorus to “Money for Nothing”, a groundbreaking song by Dire Straits. He would perform this song with Dire Straits at the Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium. Sting also provided a short guest vocal performance on the Miles Davis album You’re Under Arrest. He also sang backing vocals in Arcadia’s single “The Promise” from their only album, “So Red The Rose”. He also contributed a version of Mack the Knife to the Hal Willner-produced tribute album Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill.
Sting released …Nothing Like The Sun in 1987, including the hit songs “We’ll Be Together”, “Fragile”, “Englishman in New York”, and “Be Still My Beating Heart”, dedicated to his recently-deceased mother. It eventually went Double Platinum. The song “The Secret Marriage” from this album was adapted from a melody by German composer Hans Eisler, and “Englishman In New York” was about the eccentric writer Quentin Crisp. The album’s title is taken from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet #130.
Soon thereafter, in February 1988, he released …Nada Como el Sol, a selection of five songs from Sun sung (by Sting himself) in Spanish and Portuguese. Sting was also involved in two other recordings in the late 1980s, the first in 1987 with noted jazz arranger Gil Evans who placed Sting in a big band setting for a live album of Sting’s songs (the CD was not released in the U.S.), and the second on Frank Zappa’s 1988 Broadway the Hard Way album, where Sting performs an unusual arrangement of “Murder By Numbers”, set to the tune “Stolen Moments” by jazz composer Oliver Nelson, and “dedicated” to fundamentalist evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Sting’s 1991 album The Soul Cages was dedicated to his recently-deceased father and included the Top 10 song “All this Time” and the Grammy-winning “Soul Cages”. The album eventually went Platinum. The following year, he married Trudie Styler and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in music from Northumbria University. In 1993, he released the album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which went Triple Platinum in just over a year. The title is wordplay on his surname, Sumner and Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic The Canterbury Tales. Concurrent video albums were released to support Soul Cages (a live concert) and Ten Summoner’s Tales (recorded during the recording sessions for the album).
In May 1993, Sting released a cover of his own classic Police song from the Ghost In The Machine album, “Demolition Man” for the Demolition Man film.
Sting reached a pinnacle of success in 1994. Together with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, they performed the chart-topping song “All For Love” from the film The Three Musketeers. The song stayed at the top of the U.S. charts for five weeks and went Platinum; it is to date Sting’s only song from his post-Police career to top the U.S. charts. In February, he won two more Grammy Awards and was nominated for three more. The Berklee College of Music gave him his second honorary doctorate of music degree in May. In November, he released a greatest hits compilation called Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994, which eventually was certified Double Platinum.
Sting’s 1996 album, Mercury Falling debuted strongly, but it dropped quickly on the charts. Yet, 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). During this period, Sting was also recording music for the upcoming Disney film Kingdom of the Sun, which went on to be reworked into The Emperor’s New Groove. The film went through drastic overhauls and plot changes, many of which were documented by Sting’s wife, Trudie Styler. She captured the moment Sting was called by Disney who then informed him that his songs would not be used in the final film. The story was put into a final product: The Sweatbox, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Disney currently holds the rights to the film and will not grant its release. That same year Sting also released a little-known CD-ROM called All This Time, which was well ahead of its time in providing music, commentary and custom computer features describing Sting and his music from his perspective.
The Emperor’s New Groove soundtrack was released, however, with complete songs from the previous version of the film, which included Rascall Flatts and Shawn Colvin. This is seen by many as a move on Disney’s part to soothe the relationship with Sting and to keep open the door for future projects. The final single used to promote the film was “My Funny Friend and Me”.
Sting also performed a duet country cover version of “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” on Toby Keith’s 1997 Dream Walkin’ album.
Sting’s September 1999 album Brand New Day included the Top 40 hits “Brand New Day” and “Desert Rose” (Top 10). 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 Cheb Mami. For his performance, the Arab-American Institute Foundation gave him the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award. However, Sting was criticized for appearing in a Jaguar advertisement using “Desert Rose” as its backing track, particularly as he was a notable environmentalist.