On Tuesday, August 26th, Chuck Berry was awarded the Polar Music Prize in a ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall, as well as a short video clip from Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, honoring the rock guitar legend. Unfortunately Berry wasn’t present to receive the award himself, but luckily Welsh rock guitarist Dave Edmunds was there to accept the award on his behalf. Ironically, Keith Richards wasn’t physically present at the ceremony either, but he sent a video in his stead, paying homage to Chuck Berry and how much he has influenced Richards personally. In the short, forty-five second clip, Richards sings Berry’s praises.
“Chuck Berry – he just lept out of the radio at me,” Richards laughs. “I ate him, basically, I mean, I breathed him. He wasn’t just food, he was the air I breathed for many years, when I was learning guitar and trying to figure out how you could be such an all-arounder, a writer… Such a great voice, such a great player, and also just a great showman, you know it was one package. Basically, if I listened to Chuck Berry, I was full for the day,” Richards chuckles. The last ten seconds of the video, Richards dedicates fully to Barry, removing his shades and looking directly into the camera. “Chuck,” he says, “Congratulations, Chuck. And also I say congratulations to Sweden, for recognizing Chuck Berry for what he is.” Richards has honored Berry before this, in the 1987 documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The Polar Music Prize organization committee praised Berry for his massive contribution and influence in the rock music world, saying “every riff and solo played by rock guitarists over the last 60 years contains DNA that can be traced right back to Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and a million other groups began to learn their craft by playing Chuck Berry songs.” When Edmunds accepted the award for Berry, who has been struggling with his health for a while, he read a letter from the rock icon. “Unfortunately I am unable to travel but my heart is in Sweden,” Berry wrote.
Peter Sellers was also awarded the Polar Music Prize this past Tuesday, and was defined by the ceremony’s organizers as a “living definition” of what the Polar Music Prize is about. According to them, Sellers “shows us that classical music is not about dusty sheet music and metronomic precision, but that classical music, with its violent power and complexity, has fundamentally always been and will continue to be a way of reflecting and depicting the world.” Sellers graciously accepted his award, and his speech was absolutely inspiring: “We need music in the schools, we need music in our homes, in our lives, we need music in business and politics. And we need music in prisons and refugee camps. Music is about everything we’re hoping for that is not here yet. Music is here ahead of time to tell us it’s coming.” We couldn’t agree more.
The Polar Music Prize was founded and funded by Stig Andersson in 1989. Also the manager of Abba (sometimes referred to as the “fifth” member of Abba), Andersson is also the the founder of a record label, two music publishing companies, and the author of over 3,000 songs. His goal in establishing the Polar Music Prize is to endow “the world’s biggest music prize.” With recipients like Berry and Sellers, safe to say Andersson is getting pretty close if he’s not already there.