Playing For Change Receives 2019 Polar Music Prize

On June 11th, Playing For Change co-founders Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson accepted Sweden’s Polar Music Prize alongside hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash and German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.


Polar Music Prize

Regarded as one of the foremost honors throughout the international music community, the Polar Music Prize is bestowed annually to influential individuals, artists, and organizations who break down musical boundaries and bring together people from all the different worlds of music. First awarded to Sir Paul McCartney in 1992, there have since been more than 50 laureates, including such greats as Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and many more. Laureates from a wide range of countries, cultures, and continents have received the Prize in Stockholm from the hand of His Majesty, King Carl XVI Gustaf.

According to the Polar Music website, the prize is “awarded for significant achievements in music and/or musical activity, or for achievements which are found to be of great potential importance for music or musical activity, and it shall be referable to all fields within or closely connected with music”. This qualification has taken many forms, from rewarding individuals for outstanding musical innovation, to acknowledging significant careers in music and performance within local, national, and global communities, as well as honoring those for their service to humanity in leading positive change through music.

Each year, the Polar Music Prize Committee organizes the event in coordination with Sweden’s Royal Family, hosting various live performances, onstage “Polar Talks” with each of the Laureates, a red (pink) carpet and banquet, award ceremony, and additional pre and post-ceremony celebrations.

In their acceptance speech for the Polar Music Prize, Whitney said:

“Everyone here knows the power of music. That it can not only heal, but motivate. That it can not only give opportunity, but lift us out of that which holds us down. We see it every single day in the work we do with Playing For Change. By using their culture, their community, and their own history to strengthen next generations and build success and happiness. All it takes is music. All it takes is one spark.”

To view their full acceptance speech, click below.


Playing For Change

For Whitney Kroenke and Mark Johnson, the honor of accepting the Polar Music Prize on behalf of the Playing For Change Movement  cannot be understated. Yet, to them, the accomplishment goes far beyond their work as co-founders, and is a reflection of the worldwide support and appreciation that has fueled the organization for the past 15 plus, years. Playing For Change could not have become what it has without the generosity of thousands of musicians, the dedication from countless individuals and partners, and the belief from millions of human beings around the world that we are all connected through music.

In speaking with the co-founders about the Polar Music Prize award and ceremony, they had this to say.

Whitney: To have a music movement, a music project, honored alongside heroes of ours that inspired us and Playing For Change was really, really humbling…. to me it means that the “small” musicians are being seen and heard, and being recognized, and that is SO exciting because it means people are paying attention to each other!

Mark: I felt proud for all the people and communities who have worked so hard to support our project around the world and I was especially honored for PFC to be in the company of so many legends and musicians who have inspired us in so many ways.

Are there any notable past laureates that you are honored to share the stage with?

Mark: So many of my musical heroes are included, too many to list but my new favorite is Grandmaster Flash!

Whitney: YES!!! All of them! But I was especially blown away by being in the company of Bruce Springsteen—I’m a huge fan!

What does the Polar Music Prize mean to you?

Mark: During our first trip recording and filming street musicians in New Orleans back in 2001 we met a percussionist named R1 who told us “Music gets to the sentiment behind the words…” and I always loved that perspective of music as a window into something deeper. The Polar Prize is similar as they are recognizing the sentiment behind the process of making music and spreading music education. It explores a deeper understanding of where we are coming from and where we are going with Playing For Change.

Can you describe what took place at the ceremony in Sweden?

Whitney: It was incredible!  First, we walked the Polar Prize “red (it was pink this year!) carpet outside the Grand Hotel.  Upon entering, we were ushered to a room for private cocktails where we met the Swedish Royal Family.  After the pre-ceremony cocktails, we were escorted into the theater, where we were seated in the front row along with Grandmaster Flash and Anne-Sophie Mutter (the other laureates).  The awards ceremony took place, a video of our work was shown and then we accepted the award for PFCF on behalf of all of the musicians, staff, program coordinators, friends who have been a part of our work for the past 18 years.  It was extremely emotional, and very surreal, to accept this award from the King of Sweden! And in a room filled with such a rapt, passionate audience.

As an organization dedicated to changing lives and connecting the world through music, how do you hope to double down on your mission following this international achievement?

Mark: Fortunately for us Playing For Change was always a combination of a big global idea combined with a mission to make deeper personal connections and focus on one person, one child at a time…This rhythm gives us a chance to expand what is working and continue to grow our project while also maintaining deep personal connections with everyone we meet along the way.

How will the Polar Music Prize award support the Playing For Change Foundation and organization as a whole in the years to come?

Whitney: Well, first of all, the cash award of 100K is going to be a massive help in sustaining our current programs.  We are excited to put the award funds to work immediately to guarantee that the work we have been doing in each program will be continued through the next several years.  We will also be using the international platform of the Polar Prize to leverage new relationships into expanding our reach globally.

To Mark and Whitney, thank you for your years of dedication to Playing For Change. To all those who love and support the Playing For Change Movement, thank you for helping to make their dream a reality for all of us.

One Love,

The Playing For Change Team

2019 Byron Bay Bluesfest | Playing For Change Band

In April, the members of the Playing For Change Band made their 6th appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest in Australia. This was the festival’s 30th year anniversary, and it featured a lineup of renowned world musicians such as Iggy Pop, Norah Jones, George Clinton, Mavis Staples, and Gary Clark Jr., as well as some PFC favorites like Jack Johnson, Keb’ Mo’, and Larkin Poe.


Byron Bay Bluesfest

Image result for byron bay bluesfest

From humble beginnings, the Byron Bay Bluesfest has grown to become one of the world’s largest venues for live blues music. The festival has attracted international attention by featuring some of the biggest names in music, routinely drawing in global audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

In the past, Bluesfest has been headlined by the likes of Bob Dylan, BB King, John Mayer, John Legend, Angélique Kidjo, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and many more outstanding artists. It has also led rise to the annual Boomerang Festival, a ground-breaking Indigenous arts festival for all Australians featuring an array of music, dance, theatre, comedy, and film, all to celebrate the heritage of first nations people.

As the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to grow, its yearly celebrations of music, culture, and community have grown far beyond their blues, jazz, and roots beginnings, becoming a world stage home to Australia.


Playing For Change Band

For the past 6 years, the PFC Band has been honored to connect with international audiences on one of Australia’s greatest stages. Although the band has seen many new faces and friends throughout the years, the mission to “connect the world through music” has always remained the same.

With Titi and TulaMermans and TambaKeikoRobertoRobinChantz, and more, the band was in full swing by the time they arrived in Byron Bay, having just played together in Bahrain a few weeks prior. They also managed to play a second show while in Sydney that same weekend, sharing the music with as many people as they could.

At the heart and soul of the PFC Band, we were overjoyed to see Grandpa Elliott make his way down under, gracing the Australian audiences with his profound bellowing voice and uplifting harmonica chimes.

In anticipation for the band’s 6th appearance at the Byron Bay Bluesfest, organizers wrote:

Playing for Change is back to share their powerful live performance with everyone at Bluesfest this Easter 2019. The unique fusion of influences and music from more than seven countries allows for an extremely special performance. United in purpose and in chorus, everyone is touched by music’s unifying power!

Until next year, Bluesfest!

One Love,

PFC

PFC Artist Spotlight | Vasti Jackson

With decades of experience to show for it, Vasti Jackson‘s love and admiration for the blues is undeniable. Throughout his vast career, he has shown himself to be a true “Bard of the Blues,” telling stories of the genre’s roots, teaching audiences about the struggle from which the blues was born, and carrying on the soulful tradition for new generations to grab a hold of.


Vast-Eye

Born in McComb, Mississippi, Vasti Jackson was bound to be indoctrinated into the blues. First by family, and then through his surroundings, he gained invaluable experience growing up surrounded by the influence of the Delta blues. With a strong attraction to the guitar, Vasti began performing at local churches and juke joints while studying music at Jackson State University. As his artistry developed, Vasti was employed as a session musician working for various labels until he was named musical director for the television show, Blues Goin’ On. Throughout this period, he continued to perfect his craft, moving effortlessly from blues to soul to jazz to funk to gospel to pop, and more.

The early 90’s is where Vasti would find his rhythm, writing many songs from his life, releasing his debut album Vas-Tie Jackson, and partaking in recordings with other notable musicians such as B.B. King. In 2012, Vasti was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, forever leaving his mark on the Mississippi Delta Blues.

“As an artist, Vasti is known for sweat-drenched, soul-ripping performances marked by some of the most stunning and innovative guitar playing in Blues today. Vasti’s talent has been enlarged by an amazing array of musical experiences over 35 years of his vibrant career. Jackson’s Recordings “No Borders to the Blues”, “Live In Nashville” and “Mississippi Burner” present audio buffet of Vasti’s limitless energy and boundless imagination. It spotlights his talents as singer, and composer, and his utterly thrilling guitar mastery.”

VastiJackson.com

Wherever he goes, the blues seems to follow, and wherever the blues are, you’re sure to find Vasti.


Career with PFC

For more than 5 years, Vasti Jackson has been involved with the Playing For Change Movement, first through live performances with the PFC Band, and eventually joining in a few Songs Around The World as well. With his wealth of knowledge and boundless musical talent, his contributions to Playing For Change have impacted the lives of thousands of supporters, as well as students from across the world.

Image result for vasti jackson morocco

Recently, Vasti traveled to the Saharan Desert with the PFC Foundation to visit the Joudour Sahara Music Program. Meeting with local musicians from the M’Hamid el Ghizlane region of southern Morocco, Vasti and Maya Kyles, a young drummer also from Mississippi, taught lessons and performed together, working to find the connection between blues from the two continents.


Play Production

When he isn’t traveling the world, Vasti Jackson continues to educate audiences on the history of the blues and African culture in America. From January 29th through February 10th, Vasti served as musical director and a performer in the Marcus Gardley story, “Hell in High Water.” This play relives the account of the Great Flood of 1927. Set in Greenville, this story follows the social, economic, and political realities of an entire city of people who are subject to the powerful will of the Mississippi River.

Along with his fellow cast mates, Vasti recently hosted a PFC live stream while on set:

Carrying on with his stage performances, Vasti has just headed back to Germany to continue his role as Ike Turner in the musical “Simply The Best – The Tina Turner Story.”

As a musician who continuously pushes himself beyond borders, across cultures, and into the lives of new world audiences, Vasti Jackson is the embodiment of our mission to connect the world through music. We look forward to reuniting with him again soon, and encourage you to keep your eye on Vasti.

One Love,

PFC