Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, CBE (born 2 October 1951), better known by his professional name Sting, is an English 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 band The Police.
Sting has varied his musical style throughout his career, incorporating distinct elements of jazz, reggae, classical, and worldbeat into his music. 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.
Sting 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 siblings were 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 Grammar School, which later became 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 in jazz groups on evenings, weekends, and during breaks from college and from teaching. 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". When addressed as "Gordon" by a journalist at a press conference filmed in the movie Bring on the Night, he jokingly stated, "My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting, who is this Gordon character?"
In January 1977, Sting moved from Sunderland 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. According to Sting, who appeared in the documentary Last Play at Shea, he decided to leave The Police while onstage during the August 18, 1983 concert at Shea Stadium because he felt that playing that venue was "Everest". 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. Sting'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.