Friday night saw a remarkable honor bestowed on rock star activist compoer Sting. The Smithsonian in Washington honored him for his contributions to both music and philanthropy– specifically his nearly four decades as a musician who has used his success as a platform for social and political activism.
As part of the proceedings Sting donated one of his favorite and most iconic guitars to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Also being saluted for his own body of work and philanthropy was composer J. Ralph – who collaborated with Sting on the Academy Award-nominated song “The Empty Chair” from the documentary “Jim: The James Foley Story.”
There were two events held at the Washington museum as part of the dedication. An early-evening soiree held for a small group of major Smithsonian donors and close friends of the two honorees – and a sit-down panel discussion about music and philanthropy. Sting was accompanied by his wife Trudie Styler wearing a stunning multi-hued Gucci dress with the word “loved” embroidered on the back.
Sting’s acceptance speech referenced the current prominence in the national conversation about the “dreamers” in the cross-hairs of the DACA debate. “I feel art is about dreaming. We are all dreamers and I know that’s very pertinent at the moment. All of us here are dreamers. And those who call themselves dreamers this week and who are in some danger of being excluded from society – they need to feel that we are with them.”
The speech was followed by a Q&A and then a performance by Sting of “The Empty Chair.” Sting explained that he selected his 1978 Fender Stratocaster guitar to donate to the Smithsonian for several reasons including that he had played it at the first solo performances he ever gave – a precursor to his solo career – at a benefit show for Amnesty International titled “The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball” which was also the start of his decades long support for the human rights organization.
He said: “That concert really started a relationship with Amnesty that has carried on to this day. I’ve described Amnesty as being the most civilized organization in the world. They get people released from jail who shouldn’t be there in the first place. I’ve done many many tours with Amnesty to promote their work and to try and promote membership. That performance also gave me an idea that perhaps I could set out on my own and not be in a band anymore. So I thank Amnesty for that feeling of independence that I have now.”
As the event ended there was a flurry of goodbyes. Sting was flying out to Europe for the next leg of his successful “57th and 9th” tour with his son Joe Sumner. Trudie Styler back to her intensive film producing duties with an upcoming premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival of the film “Novitiate” starring Melissa Leo – which she co-produced.
Summarizing the occasion Sting pronounced that “this dreamer is very happy to be here at the Smithsonian.” And then referring to the Institution having being inspired and funded by the 18th century British scientist James Smithson, added “I’m happy to know that an Englishman started the whole thing!”