Rock'n'roll pioneer Chuck Berry wins Polar music prize in Sweden

Keith Richards pays tribute to ground-breaking singer and songwriter, as opera director Peter Sellars is also recognised

Keith Richards has paid tribute to Chuck Berry as the American rock'n'roll pioneer was honoured in Sweden with an award regarded, perhaps, as the world's most prestigious music prize.

Berry and the opera director Peter Sellars, a fellow American, were each made laureates of the Polar music prize – founded 25 years ago as a music equivalent of the Nobel prize.

Richards recorded a video message in Berry's honour which was played at the ceremony in Stockholm's concert hall.

"Chuck Berry, he just leapt out of the radio at me," he said.

"I ate him basically, I mean I breathed him – it wasn't just food, he was the air I breathed for many years when I was learning guitar and trying to figure out how you could be such an all-rounder.

"Such a great voice, such a great player and also such a great showman … it was all in one package."

Berry, now 87, was too ill to travel from his home near St Louis, Missouri, and his award was accepted by musician Dave Edmunds, who read a thankyou speech from Berry.

"My heart is in Sweden," he said. "I understand what a great honour it is to be a recipient. I am sorry that I am unable to travel and receive this personally."

The prize goes out of its way to reward people from different areas of music. So alongside Berry, the man responsible for Johnny B Goode and Roll Over Beethoven, is acclaimed opera director Sellars, who will return to the English National Opera for its 2014-15 season as director-in-residence.

Sellars collected his award from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

He said: "Thank you for this overwhelming award … I must dedicate this prize to my musical families who have adopted me, taught me, have been patient, generous and inspiring beyond anything that I could have imagined.

"Living with music every day is already the most astonishing gift anyone could ask for."

Berry and Sellars follow in impressive footsteps. Paul McCartney, Elton John, Mstislav Rostropovich, Led Zeppelin and Valery Gergiev are all past winners.

As part of the prize, the winners also get £100,000 each.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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