Sting, CBE (born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner; 2 October 1951) is a British musician, singer-songwriter, activist, actor and philanthropist.
Prior to starting his solo career, he was the principal songwriter, lead singer and bassist of the rock music band The Police. As a solo musician and member of The Police, Sting has received sixteen Grammy Awards for his work, receiving his first Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1981, and receiving an Oscar nomination for best song. He is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Sumner was born in Wallsend, England, near Newcastle upon Tyne, the eldest of four children born to Audrey (née Cowell), a hairdresser, and Ernest Matthew Sumner, a milkman and engineer. His parents had three more children: Philip, Angela and Anita. Young Gordon would often assist his father with the early-morning milk-delivery rounds and his "best friend" was an old Spanish guitar with five rusty strings which had been left behind by an uncle who had emigrated to Canada.
He attended St. Cuthbert's High School in Newcastle upon Tyne. He would often sneak into nightclubs like the Club-A-Go-Go, where he would watch acts such as Cream and Jimi Hendrix, artists who would later influence his own music. After jobs as a bus conductor, a construction labourer, and a tax officer, he attended Northern Counties College of Education, (which later became part of Northumbria University) from 1971 to 1974 and qualified as a teacher. He then worked as a schoolteacher at St. Paul's Middle School in Cramlington for two years.
His first music gigs were wherever he could get a playing job. He performed evenings, weekends, and during breaks from college and from teaching in jazz groups. He played with local jazz bands such as the Phoenix Jazzmen, the Newcastle Big Band, and Last Exit. He gained his nickname after he performed wearing a black and yellow sweater with hooped stripes while onstage with the Phoenix Jazzmen. Bandleader Gordon Solomon thought that the sweater made him look like a wasp, which prompted the nickname "Sting". In a press conference filmed in the movie Bring on the Night, he jokingly stated when referred to by a journalist as Mr. Sumner, "My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?"
In January 1977, Sting moved from Newcastle to London, and soon thereafter he joined Stewart Copeland and Henry Padovani (who was soon replaced by Andy Summers) to form the New Wave band The Police. Between 1978 and 1983, they released five chart-topping albums and won six Grammy Awards. Although their initial sound was punk inspired, The Police soon switched to reggae-tinged rock and minimalist pop. Their last album, Synchronicity, which included their most successful song, "Every Breath You Take", was released in 1983. 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.
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 movie of the show and drew critical attention to his work. Sumner'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 film version of 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.
His first solo album, 1985's The Dream of the Blue Turtles, featured a cast of 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 favourite non-LP track titled "Another Day". 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 Bring on the Night, directed by Michael Apted, documented the formation of the band and its first concert in France.
Sting performing in 1985
Also in 1985, he sang the introduction and chorus to "Money for Nothing", a groundbreaking song by Dire Straits (he was given co-writer status and receives royalties based on his somewhat minor performance, supposedly because he reused his melody from The Police hit "Don't Stand So Close to Me" for his vocal parts. It is one of only two shared songwriting credits on any Dire Straits album). He performed this song with Dire Straits at the Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium. He 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. In 1984 he performed a song with a band called Band Aid. The song was, Do They Know It's Christmas for the relief of poverty in Africa.
He 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 mother, who had recently died. It eventually went Double Platinum. The song "The Secret Marriage" from this album was adapted from a melody by German composer Hanns 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. He was also involved in two other recordings in the late 1980s, the first in 1987 with 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. October 1988 saw the release 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 in the role of the soldier.