Grandmaster Flash Becomes First DJ to Win Polar Music Prize

Grandmaster Flash
Grandmaster Flash with the King of Sweden at the 2019 Polar Music Prize award ceremony in Stockholm. (Credit: Annika Berglund)

DJ and hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash has become the first DJ to win Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, which is often described as the “Nobel Prize for music.”

Flash, who was born in Barbados and raised in the Bronx, was one of three laureates for the 2019 award. The others were the German violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and the music charity, The Playing For Change Foundation. All three received $130,000 of prize money.

The Polar Music Prize was founded in 1989 by Stig Anderson, who’s best known as ABBA’s manager. Anderson petitioned the Nobel Prize committee in the late 1980s to add a music award. However, his idea was rejected, so Anderson created his own award: the Polar Music Prize.

Flash accepted the prize from the King of Sweden, saying the award was “in honor of every DJ, every rapper, every graffiti artist, and every breakdancer.”

He added: “This thing that I did had not existed before, and I am one of many where I come from. It ended up being called hip-hop, taking the drum break from pop, rock, jazz, blues, funk, disco, R&B, and using duplicate copies of records. I would take one section and repeat it over and over again.”

De La Soul’s DJ Maseo spoke at the ceremony, saying: “Grandmaster Flash is a scientist and a virtuoso who has demonstrated that turntables and mixing consoles can be musical instruments … [He] changed the course of popular music. Some 40 years later, the musical form and the hip-hop culture that Grandmaster Flash helped to create, in the ruins of the South Bronx in the mid-1970s, has grown into the largest music genre, hip-hop, in the United States and the world.”

Flash is in impressive company. Previous Polar winners include B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Dizzy Gillespie, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder.

Watch Polar’s video about Flash below. You can also to listen to a Spotify playlist of his influences.

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