Born Gordon Matthew Sumner on October 2, 1951, in Newcastle- upon-Tyne, England; son of Ernest Matthew (a milkman and small dairy owner) and Audrey (a homemaker; maiden name, Cowell) Sumner; married Frances Eleanor Tomelty (an actress), 1976; divorced, 1982; married Trudie Styler (actress and producer), 1992; children: (with Tomelty) Joseph, Katherine; four children with Styler. Addresses: Record company--A&M/Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, website: http://www.amrecords.com. Website--Sting Official Website: http://www.sting.com.
Sting is one of the few musicians to experience huge success both as a member of a band and as a solo artist. His band, the Police, reached the highest possible peak in pop rock after the release of Synchronicity, which turned out to be their last album. Sting continues to produce quality music that resists classification and has earned a reputation as a star with substance, "the pop idol adults can admire," according to Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis. His songwriting within the confinement of his former band proved insightful and adventurous even while vaulting them to megastar status in the pop world. His risk-taking as a solo artist keeps Police fans interested while appealing to a new set of fans of jazz-inflected rock. Sting's appeal goes well beyond his music, or the effective dramatic performances he has given onstage and screen. His dedicated work to preserve the Brazilian Amazon's vanishing rain forest makes him an inspirational figure for anyone concerned about the pressing environmental problems facing the world today.
Growing up in the bleak English industrial town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sting--then known by his given name, Gordon Sumner--was primarily concerned with breaking free from the dead-end life that most of the people in town seemed resigned to living. Making music was Sting's uncertain ambition. He never had formal lessons, but by the age of 17 he was working semi-professionally in local jazz clubs, where he had learned from older players to play bass guitar and read music. Members of one of the jazz bands he joined back then gave him his nickname "Sting" one day when he wore a yellow and black striped sweater to one of their gigs. After he briefly attended Warwick University, he worked at odd jobs, like construction, until 1971 when he trained to be a schoolteacher. By day he was a mild mannered English teacher. By night, he played punk rock with a band he formed with three friends, called Last Exit. When he referred to this period of time, Sting once said that he had settled into a life that he could project 30 years down the road, and that terrified him. Even though he married Frances Tomelty in May of 1976 and their first child was born in October, Sting ran for the school exit by the end of the year.
Good-Bye Dead-End Job
Sting and his band, Last Exit, headed for London where he met with Stewart Copeland, a drummer who was combing the club scene for members of a new band. Doubting themselves, the members of Last Exit ran back to Newcastle. In 1976 Copeland, Sting, and Andy Summers performed as the Police. It was the heyday of the punk/New Wave movement. The Police were frequently called a New Wave group, but their music was more complex than that of most in that genre. Sting contributed highly literate lyrics, and their music used polyrhythmic structures and lush chordal work to create a truly unique sound. Stewart Copeland's brother owned a record label, Illegal Records. The Police recorded a single for him, called "Fall Out," that sold about 10,000 copies and led to a contract with A&M Records.
Elated over signing with a major label, the band members decided that they had to conquer America immediately. Despite strenuous protests from A&M, they began planning a club tour of the States, where no one had heard of them and they had not released any music. Proof of their success came with the release of the haunting single "Roxanne." Suddenly, the Police were a bigger hit than any of the already-established New Wave groups. Sting wrote nearly every song the band performed and eventually recorded. In 1979, A&M rushed to release their debut LP, Outlandos d'Amour, which they recorded for a mere $6,000. Reggatta De Blanc was released that same year, and Zenyatta Mondatta followed early in 1980. The three albums made them superstars. In 1980 they embarked on a tour that included many Third World venues. Sting credits that tour as really opening his world view. Shortly after the tour, he told Guitar Player, "I've developed my songwriting away from the subjects of love, alienation, and devotion to a more political, socially aware viewpoint." The evolution was evident in the songs on the group's fourth and fifth albums: Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity.
Sting often speaks of how the band's greatest success came at a time of failure in his personal life. In 1982 his marriage with Frances Tomelty ended in divorce. The turmoil of that break-up was, in Sting's words, "the worst thing that ever happened to me." Synchronicity reflected the upheaval he incurred that year. The lyrics of songs like "King of Pain," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," and "Every Breath You Take" resonate with the anguish felt when love and intimacy result in legal bickering and jealousy. The songs "Synchronicity" and "Synchronicity II" were inspired by the psychotherapy Sting received during the divorce, which was based on the philosophies of Carl Jung.
Copeland, Summers, and Sting stayed together through the rigors of their rise to the top, but by 1983, three large egos in one group created too much tension. "In our final year, it was very clear to me that for the sake of sanity, for the sake of dignity, we should end it," Sting told DeCurtis. "We had the big song of the year, the big album of the year, the big tour of the year. We were it. We'd made it--everything we attempted, we'd achieved to the power of ten." The group disbanded at the height of its popularity.
Sting's first priority after the break up of the Police was to devote time to one of his longtime interests: acting. His first role had been that of the hypocritical rebel Ace Face in the Who's 1980 rock film Quadrophenia. He appeared in The Secret Policeman's Other Ball and Brimstone and Treacle in 1982. As time went on, Sting acquired bigger parts in more movies, including science fiction epic Dune; the Frankenstein remake The Bride; and the war drama Plenty, which starred Meryl Streep. He appeared on Broadway to mixed reviews in the role of Macheath in Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. His best acting to date was in the 1989 Mike Figgis film Stormy Monday, and the 1997 film Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets, produced by his second wife, Trudie Styler. Stormy Monday was set in Sting's hometown of Newcastle, and Figgis created a character for Sting well suited to his dark, moody side.
Sting released his first solo album in 1985. The Dream of the Blue Turtles combined Sting's intelligent lyrics and the Police's rhythmic sophistication with a fresh jazz sound. He was pleased with the album, but when it was nominated for a Grammy in the jazz category, he was "horrified and dismayed," and relieved not to win. Backing Sting were jazz musicians Branford Marsalis, Darryl Jones, Kenny Kirkland, and Omar Hakim. A documentary about the formation of the group called Bring on the Night was released in 1985.
... Nothing Like the Sun, released in 1987, had a sound much like The Dream of the Blue Turtles and was equally popular. Sting dedicated the album to his mother, who died suddenly while he was recording it. Six months later, Sting's father died. "I was told about it just before I went onstage in front of about 250,000 people in Rio for the first gig of the world tour," Sting told Phil Sutcliffe of Us magazine. "I had to do the show. I wanted to. In a way, it was a wake for my father. It was great--seething with energy. But I never cried for him."
Sting paid a high price for his emotional denial. The once prolific writer found himself unable to write a word for three years. When at last he confronted this frightening block, he realized he was "going to have to write a record about death," he told DeCurtis. "I didn't really want to." Once he sat down to do it, The Soul Cages poured forth in about two weeks. "It was quite painful, a bit overwhelming," he told Sutcliffe. "But I'm glad I did it." Sting dedicated The Soul Cages to his father, and he has said that the album has reconciled him with the family and background he once rejected so vehemently.
Ten Summoner's Tales, Sting's follow-up album to The Soul Cages, was more upbeat. "But less and less do I know what a hit record will be," he told Rolling Stone."I used to have a very clear idea. Now I'm not so sure. I like to think I'm less about rock and roll and more about songs. I think songwriting is a tradition that's older than rock and roll. I could live without rock and roll. I haven't got this sort of religious reverie for rock and roll. I think it's incredibly reactionary and boring."
Mercury Falling was released in 1996, and Sting toured again to promote it. Christopher John Farley of Time magazine wrote, "Mercury Falling stands out as his most consistently entertaining effort. The lyrics are smart but not ostentatiously cerebral. The instrumental work of [Kenny] Kirkland, who performs on all the new tracks, and [Branford] Marsalis, who plays on two, adds shading and sophistication."
Shadows in the Rain
In trying to do his part for the environment, Sting focuses on the preservation of the Amazon rain forest, which is vital to the health of the earth's atmosphere. To that end, he founded the Rainforest Foundation. It originated in 1987, after he went deep into the jungle to meet with the natives there. He developed a close friendship with one of the chiefs, Raoni. The two traveled to Rio de Janiero to appeal to the government to stop the forest destruction. Then-president Jose Sarney promised that if Sting raised $1,000,000 to cover expenses, an area the size of England--including Raoni's homeland--would be demarcated as Xingo Park. Sting agreed to do so, generating much favorable publicity for Sarney. However, when Sting produced the money, Sarney refused to hold up his end of the deal. It was a painful lesson in politics for both Sting and the natives, and led to some criticism of the Rainforest Foundation. Sting now directs part of the Rainforest Foundation's money into programs to educate and empower the natives in their rights and the workings of politics. He is also involved with Amnesty International and has organized and performed in concerts to raise funds for that cause.
Sting learned another painful lesson in 1995. His longtime accountant, Keith Moore, was sentenced in London to six years in prison for embezzling $9.4 million from Sting's account. He siphoned the money between 1988 and 1992. Sting's bank reimbursed him $7.5 million that they transferred to Moore's account without permission. "The person who did it shocked me," Sting told Rolling Stone. "It made me look very seriously at the idea of wealth, and I came up with the conclusion that wealth isn't about what you have in the bank. Your wealth is your friendships, family, health and happiness."
Accolades Continued with Brand New Day
In 1999, Sting released his sixth studio album, Brand New Day, and embarked on an 80-city tour to support it. The album was propelled to eight-times platinum sales--Sting's best-selling album--and Grammy wins for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance by the title track and the song "Desert Rose," which features French- Algerian vocalist Cheb Mami and the album's "most impressive, pathfinding track," according to Timothy White in Billboard. Andrew Hammond of the Middle East called the song "a symbolic meeting of east and west...." The track also won Sting the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAI) Spirit of Humanity Award in 2001.
...All This Time, a live album recorded at Sting's home in Italy on September 11, 2001, was intended as a "thank you" performance of a number of Sting and Police hits for fans, but instead became an impromptu tribute to those lost in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Instead of webcasting the entire concert as planned, Sting and his band decided that it would be appropriate to broadcast only one song, "Fragile." "We will sing this song for those who lost their lives," Sting said to the crowd of 200, according to his website.
In addition to producing studio and live albums, Sting signed a deal in 2002 with Simon & Schuster U.K. to write his memoirs. In 2003, his autobiography Broken Music was published. He performed at Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, California, in January of 2003 and reunited with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland for a performance marking the induction of the Police into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March of 2003. "I am very proud of the legacy of the Police. We were a damn good band and it still holds up. And it's an honor to be voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and to be recognized by one's peers," Sting was quoted in a Firstars Artist Management statement at the NY Rock website. In 2004, he launched a world tour in support of his album Sacred Love.
by Christine Morrison
School teacher in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1975-76; member of several jazz ensembles and band Last Exit, 1971-76; acquired nickname "Sting" from fellow musicians commenting on striped sweater, 1975; met Stewart Copeland, performed with the Police, 1976-83; "Roxanne" recorded, 1978; the Police recorded five albums before disbanding in 1983; released first solo effort, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, 1985; recorded six solo albums, 1985-99; acted onstage in The Threepenny Opera, 1989; has appeared in numerous films.
With the Police: Five Grammy Awards, two BRIT Awards, Best New Artist in Rolling Stone Critics' Poll, 1979, induction, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2003; as solo artist: Arab American Institute Foundation (AAI), Spirit of Humanity Award, 2001; BRIT Awards, Best British Male Solo Artist, 1994, Best British Album, 1998, Outstanding Contribution to British Music, 2002; Emmy Award, Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, 2002; Golden Globe, Best Original Song, 2001; Grammy Awards, Best Rock Instrumental Performance, Song of the Year, 1983, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 1987, Best Rock Song, 1991, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 1993, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 1999, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, 2000; Ivor Novello Award for International Achievement, 2002; induction, Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2002; received numerous awards as a member of the Police and as a solo artist from Down Beat magazine's readers' and critics' polls.
- Selected discography
- The Dream of the Blue Turtles , A&M, 1985.
- Bring on the Night (live), A&M, 1986.
- ... Nothing Like the Sun , A&M, 1987.
- Nada Como el Sol... , A&M, 1988.
- The Soul Cages , A&M, 1991.
- Ten Summoner's Tales , A&M, 1993.
- The Best of Sting-Fields of Gold , A&M, 1994.
- Mercury Falling , A&M, 1996.
- Brand New Day , A&M, 1999.
- ...All This Time (live), A&M, 2001.
- Sacred Love A & M, 2003.
- With the Police
- Outlandos d'Amour , A&M, 1979.
- Reggatta de Blanc , A&M, 1979.
- Zenyatta Mondatta , A&M, 1980.
- Ghost in the Machine , A&M, 1981.
- Synchronicity , A&M, 1983.
- Every Breath You Take-The Singles , A&M, 1986.
- Message in a Box-The Complete Recordings of the Police (box compilation), A&M, 1993.
- The Very Best of Sting & the Police , Universal, 2002.
- Appears on
- Brimstone & Treacle (soundtrack), A&M, 1982.
- The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (soundtrack), Rhino, 1982.
- Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits), Warner Bros., 1988.
- Peter and the Wolf , Deutsche Grammophon, 1991.
- Pavarotti & Friends , London, 1993.
- The Three Musketeers (soundtrack), Hollywood, 1993.
- Demolition Man (soundtrack), Varese Sarabande, 1993.
- Leaving Las Vegas (soundtrack), Ark 21, 1995.
- Sabrina (soundtrack), A&M, 1995.
- Truth About Cats & Dogs (soundtrack), A&M, 1996.
- (Contributor) Carnival , RCA, 1997.
- Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets (soundtrack), Ark 21, 1997.
- The Thomas Crown Affair , Ark 21, 1999.
- Dolphins (soundtrack), Ark 21, 2000.
- The Emperor's New Groove (soundtrack), Disney, 2000.
- Red Planet (soundtrack), Ark 21, 2000.
- (Contributor)Cinema Italiano , Decca, 2002.
- Kate & Leopold (soundtrack), Milan, 2002.
- Billboard, September 18, 1999.
- Bookseller,March 1, 2002, p. 33.
- Brandweek, August 9, 1999.
- Down Beat, December 1983; May 1984; August 1984; December 1984; May 1985; November 1986; December 1987; December 1988.
- Entertainment Weekly, August, 1996; March 21, 1997.
- Guitar Player, September 1982.
- Guitar World, April 1988; October 1988.
- Middle East, June 2001, p. 44.
- Musician, September 1987.
- Rolling Stone, June 14, 1979; December 13, 1979; November 16,1980; December 25,1980; February 19,1981; September 1, 1983; September 25,1986; November 5, 1987; February 7, 1991; May 27, 1993.
- Spin, May 1991.
- Time, April 1, 1996.
- Us, May 16, 1991.
- "Sting," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 18, 2003).
- "Sting," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (February 25, 2003).
- Sting Official Website, http://www.sting.com (February 25, 2003).
- "World Beat: Statement Concerning the Police Reuniting to Perform," NY Rock, http://www.nyrock.com/worldbeat/11_2002/111302a.asp (February 25, 2003).
- Additional information provided by The Message in a Box liner notes and additional material.