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Knights who Rock!
Who gets the title of "Knight" and which ones are Musicians? How many of these are rockers? Are they all British? What are non-Brits who are given the honor called? It was these questions and more that prompted me to create this hub. In researching for it, I found out a lot of interesting tidbits. For instance, did you know that one famous rocker turned down the title? Who was it? What about the same honor for women?
Knighthood, to me (an American) is mysterious and beautiful. I'm fascinated that this ancient title is still being used today. For me, it represents a real hero - someone who devotes their life to the good of their country, and in many cases, as it turns out, for the world. But is that really the criteria for knighthood today? I'm going to find out. Come along on my journey to discover what makes a musician a Knight in the 21st century (besides her Majesty the Queen, of course!)
The First Rockers named to the Order of the British Empire
Fab Four Charms the Royal Family
The four members of the Beatles were named Members of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, making them the first rock n roll musicians named to the order. This was a bit upsetting to some of those who were previously named with the honor. They were not actually named Knights, as that title is reserved for higher ranks in the order. (Sir Paul McCartney was Knighted to the order at a later date).
Note on Beatles MBE: The Beatles received the MBE in 1965, for services to export (not music)
The Beatles' Royal Performance
Sir Cliff Richard
The First Rock Star to be Knighted
The honor of being the first Rocker to get to use the title of "Sir" before his name goes to Sir Cliff Richard. The first honorary title actually went to Bob Geldof for his Charity work in 1986, but since he is Irish (i.e. not English) he is not given the title "Sir".
Cliff Richard might be more remembered as a Pop singer, or even for his Gospel songs, than for Rock and Roll. However, Rock music is where he got his start, in the genre of Elvis and Little Richard, in pre-Beatles England.
The main Cliff Richard song I remember is "Devil Woman". I can remember lip syncing to that one quite a bit. I loved the feeling of "devilish" freedom the song gave me.
Sir Cliff Richard was knighted in 1996 for services to music and charity.
Got a little rocker in your world?
'It was the most unexpected thing to happen. It had happened to actors and businessmen, but it was not in the rock 'n' roll scenario at all"
Sir Cliff Richard on receiving notice he would be knighted
What about Bob?
Bob Geldof really was the first rocker to be knighted - following the huge success of LIve Aid, back in 1986. The rub is that he doesn't get to use the title "Sir" (because he's Irish and not British) ~ but that doesn't stop his fans! He's well known as "Sir Bob" and that is just alright with me!
Another big player in helping Bob get Live Aid off the ground was Midge Ure, who was later given the title of OBE(Officer of the British Empire) following the 20 year revival of Live Aid in 2005, for services to music and charity. Midge Ure is a composer and plays keyboard and guitar. He was a member of The Rich Kids and Thin Lizzy, and several other bands.
"Sir" Bob has led a lifetime of dedication to helping those who are impoverished and/or deserving of a better life. We applaud you, Bob! and thank you for your tireless work, incredible vision, and hope for a better world.
Sir Paul McCartney
Knighted for real in 1997: for Services to Music
Sir Paul... seems so natural, really. I have great respect for all the Beatles, and I am still a big fan of John Lennon, but I have to say that when Sir Paul was knighted, I was completely stoked! He is in so many ways the enduring rocker from the very beginning of the whole rock vibe. It was "Wings over America" that introduced me to Sir Paul, and many of those songs remain my favorites to this day. Paul is certainly One of the best song writers and collaborators (for example the team of Paul McCartney and John Lennon) of all of Rock. But he has brought true charm to the genre as well. He is the clean cut boy and the wild one too - sort of the British version of what we "Yanks" call "All American"... lover of all that is good, lover of his country, and most excellent representative of Rock n Roll!
Sir Elton John
Knighted in 1998 for services to music and charitable services
Elton John is one of my true lifetime heroes, as he has been with me in one way or another since my early teens. One of my early "favorite" albums was Yellow Brick Road. I probably listened to those two vinyl records more than a hundred times, memorizing every word. His partnership with Bernie Taupin was pure genius. Bernie's words, Elton's sweet keyboard melodies, and a lot of pure magic made those old songs seem to have a personality and life of their own. Those songs were my friends. There seemed to be a perfect Elton John song for every mood, and I still refer to them often.
Later in life, I've come to regard Elton John as an iconic hero of another sort - A leader in difficult times. He comforted me in the loss of Freddie Mercury. I still need his comfort for this at times, for I was a Queen (and Freddie Mercury) fan before I really even discovered Elton's magic. He comforted me again, and in fact the world, when we lost Princess Diana. Elton and Bernie re-worked the old Marilyn Monroe tribute so beautifully. When he played "Candle in the Wind" at Princess Diana's funeral, knowing the original, and seeing what a beautiful meaning it had in this terribly tragic loss - not just for England but for the world, really gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. I think I might have even cried to the point of sobbing, it was so emotional. How he keeps it together during times like that I'll never know.
Elton is still more, though than a brilliant writer and singer, or leader during times of trouble. He is the vaudevillian of rock. While others take to crazy makeup and tight fitting jeans, Elton's wearing crazy hats and huge sunglasses, 2 foot heals and making the whole thing what it's all about: a grand celebration of music: a festival. For sharing with us decades of talent and entertainment and genuine leadership with love, we applaud you and thank you, Sir Elton John.
Sir Elton John's Memoir: Love Is the Cure - On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS
From the ashes of the lives of so many friends lost to AIDS, then one very special boy (Ryan White), Elton John rose out of his personal darkness and started a crusade, culminating in the creation of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
"This is a disease that must be cured not by a miraculous vaccine, but by changing hearts and minds, and through a collective effort to break down social barriers and to build bridges of compassion."
Sir Elton John
Sales of Love Is the Cure benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Sir Mick Jagger
2003: for Services to Popular Music
I am a baby boomer but a very late one, and therefore was also a late fan of the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger. By the time I was into music, they had been playing together for 15 years. Even though I don't have the same time frame of fame to draw from as some of the other Knighted rockers, I can say Mick and the Stones' music has had a profound influence on me, perhaps in some ways because of the early childhood exposure I had to them. They and several others seemed to me to be the soundtrack for the Vietnam War era, but they survived that time and kept bringing out the hits for years to come. Front men have a dual job, really. They don't just sing and jump and gyrate: they have to be the face of the band all the time. It's no wonder so many of them fall to drugs or alcohol, or worse. The fact that the music, the band, and the iconic front man in Mick Jagger made it through all those years is a testament in itself to his perseverance and character. Thank you for staying the course, Sir Mick! You still rock!
Brits and Rock
2006: in recognition of his services to the music industry and for his humanitarian work
There was a period in my life, when I was first getting out on my own, that I lived and breathed for Bono and U2. I had their albums on every second I was at home, and when they came on the radio in the car or other public place, I would literally get ecstatic! Their music was a change in feeling for me from the stuff I had grown up with. It helped me, I think to ease into adulthood with a bit of rebel in my belly that, I realize now, has never gone away. I remember hearing when they first came out from someone that they were a religious band. That's unfortunate for me, because I did not take them seriously as a rock band until after they were already rising up the charts - so I missed the original buzz. I did manage to get in on the fun, though, and saw them in concert - of course they were awesome. Still to this day I get a little bit of that young angst when I see the incredible video they did of "Where the streets have no name". Who can't fall in love with Bono? I was really excited and proud when he started ONE: The charity that basically propelled what Bob Geldof started into a multi purpose and multi generational concept. Now that he is a Knight too, Bono and Geldof have another shared legacy - Irish Knights of the British Empire. (IKBE?) I still find it rather Ironic (and really cool, too) that the one who sang "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" would end up being knighted by the Queen. That says it all! Thank you and well done, Bono, Sir!
Rockin' Dames - What? No Rock n Roll Dames?
Well we'll have to do something about that won't we?
Okay, here are some "musical" Dames.... not quite Rock n Roll, but so far, it's all we've got!
- Dame Cleo Laine, (1997) for her services to music
Dame Clementina Dinah Campbell, Scat singer, is known as the "Queen of Jazz". She was the first female singer of popular music to be knighted. (I know Jazz isn't Rock, but you must admit rock has roots in Jazz, and a good bit of Jazz, especially Dame Cleo's, certainly rocks!) She was actually first made an Officer (OBE) in 1979, making her a true pioneer for popular music. Her success story begins when she was hired to sing with (future husband) Johnny Dankworth (later also knighted - in 2006) Laine and Dankworth's style was more "bebop", a controversial sound in the 1940's. that's pretty much a rock n roll legacy if I ever heard one! Laine has been nominated for Grammy awards in jazz, popular, and classical music: the only female performer to achieve this feat! Rock on!
- Dame Shirley Bassey, (2000) for her services to entertainment
Dame Shirley is probably most famous for her James Bond Theme Songs (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker), but she is a real hero to the British public, who truly adore her and her sultry voice, which is part of her trademark. She might have been a rocker, but started her career a little too early. She is Welsh, from the docks of Tiger Bay, where she was born into poverty. She was discovered while singing in clubs as a teenager. She is a true Diva, still singing well into her 70's!
- Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews, (2000) for services to the performing arts, On the Millenium New Year's Honours List
I was a kid when Mary Poppins came out, and thought Julie Andrews was the coolest magical Nanny ever! Later, in The Sound of Music , I cheered wildly for her awkward but adorable singing Nun. (Don't tell anybody, but The Sound of Music is still one of my favorite all time movies ....shhhh! Can I say that on a lens about Rock and Roll? ) Dame Julie wasn't just famous for "goody goody" roles however. Her films reach a broad audience and have a wide range. Most notably, she starred with Paul Newman in Alfred Hitchcock's Political Thriller Torn Curtain, and had a dual role Victor Victoria (with Husband Blake Edwards). Something I've noticed about Julie Andrews when she sings, is that she completely hangs on to her British accent. With many singers, it is difficult to tell where they are from when they are singing, but this is most definitely not the case with Dame Julie Andrews!
Dame Shirley Bassey - Sings "Diamonds are Forever" at Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee
This was such a big deal! I was caught up the British Royal ferver myself! (even though I'm American)
Why refuse Knighthood?
"I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don't know what it's for. It's not what I spent my life working for."
David Bowie, 2003
Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - What do all these titles mean?
The Knight's Bachelor is an order of chivalry whose motto is "For God and the Empire"
The first two titles are the ones that allow you to be called a "Sir" (or "Dame")
Knight or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)
(No women can be named GBE. There will only ever be 300 men named with this honor.)
Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE)
or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE)
This is the title given to all of our Knighted Rockers (so far). Women can be named to this order
and if they are British, are allowed to be called "Dame". There will only ever be 845 total
men and women named with this honor.
The remaining three carry no title of "Sir" or Dame' but get the letters
after their name:
Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)
We actually have quite a few rockers who have been given the honor of CBE.
There will only ever be a total of 8,960 people given this honor.
Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
The fourth rank in the order. There will never be more than 858 people
given this honor in one year.
Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)
The most common honor given. The annual limit for this honor is
These limits do not mean there will be this many people named each year.
The number of people named to the order vary from year to year.
Non British citizens' title is "honorary", and KBE or GBE recipients are not addressed as "Sir" as are their British counterparts.
Read more about the order at the Royal Monarch Website
Phil Collins, LVO
Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order
In Recognition of his work on behalf of the Prince's Trust
As far as I know, Phil is the only Rocker to be given a title outside of the Order of the British Empire. The Royal Victorian Order is "a dynastic order of knighthood recognizing distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms," (source: wikipedia) Phil was appointed to the order in 1994.
It's rather fitting that Phil would have a title unlike the rest of Rock. He's always been one to march to the beat of his own drum. (Okay... pun intended). His "In the Air Tonight" was a phenomenal hit.... and it's eerie sound, passion, and genius use of percussion: really creates a signature only Phil Collins can pull off. The song has spawned rumors that Phil wrote it after witnessing a drowning, others that it was written about the man who killed his wife... neither of these seem to be true.
According to snopes.com:
"Of all pop songs for which elaborate, apocryphal back-stories have been created to explicate the lyrics, Phil Collins' 1981 hit, "In the Air Tonight" (from his Face Value album), has perhaps the most varied and fantastic set of legends associated with it."
Other Royal Ladies of Rock - There are quite a few!
So maybe Rock has not evolved to the point of "Damehood" for our Rockin' ladies, but that doesn't mean they aren't being recognized in some of the lower levels of the Most Excellent Order!
- Olivia Newton-John, OBE- 1979 Received one year after starring in Grease.
Olivia was more country than rock, but because of Grease, I'll give her a spot as a Royal Lady of Rock! Incidentally, her first hit "If Not for You" was written by Bob Dylan and recorded previously by George Harrison. So, there you go! Another tie to Rock!
- Petula Clark, CBE 1998
Petula was a 60's pop music icon (Hits include the phenomenal "Downtown") and she still performs today. Her singing career spans 7 decades! Rock on Petula!
- Dusty Springfield - OBE 1999
Springfield died on the day she was to receive her award. Dubbed "The White Queen of Soul". Her outbreak hit was in 1963 "I Only Want to Be with You", which was followed up with "Wishin' and Hopin" in 1964. She was the best selling female singer in the world by 1966, the year she released "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me". She answered to the changes in music in the mid 1960's by recording Dusty in Memphis, which Rolling Stone lists as one of the greatest albums of all time.
- Joan Armatrading, MBE 2001
Joan is a Hugely influential and pioneering British singer-songwriter and is still rising today. Her 2010 release This Charming Life went quickly to #1 in Amazon overall downloads
- Annie Lennox - OBE 2011, for tireless charity campaigns and championing of humanitarian causes.
Lennox is a Scottish pop culture icon, known as "The Greatest White Soul Singer Alive". I remember her from the Eurythmics (Sweet Dreams are Made of This) and her outlandish appearance in the 80's. She was a rebel woman for sure! Now she's not quite so wild in appearance, but is still singing and performing, and championing her causes in big ways - mostly related to HIV/AIDS activism, but she is also a supporter of Amnesty International, and Greenpeace
- Congrats to Kate Bush! CBE
Named Knights Commander 410/13
- Queen's Birthday honors 6/15/13
added TWO incredible artists!
and PJ Harvey
Whoo Hoo! You go Girls!
Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (are made of this)
Here's our Rockin' girl Annie Lennox in her heyday with the Eurythmics
Commanders of the Most Excellent Order - CBE's of Rock and Roll
Sting (Services to Music) - I saw him in concert in Tampa in the mid 80's - he was very good, even despite the fact that he had a head cold. There was a vaporizer (or maybe humidifier) next to him on the stage. My favorite album by Sting is Dream of the Blue Turtles, which has a bit of a bluesy feel.
(Yep, all three of them! Robin, Barry, and Maurice Gibb) Maurice died before the ceremony. His award was accepted by his son, Adam. They may be remembered for their disco beats, but I was a Bee Gees fan before disco ~ and they had some haunting and beautiful music that did indeed Rock!
David Gilmour (Pink Floyd guitarist & Lead singer) - for his charity work
Eric Patrick Clapton, -for services to music. Eric is a musical genius! I still listen to his album Unplugged. It's one of a small handful I keep at my desk and listen while I work.
Roger Daltrey, (The Who: Lead Singer) - for services to Music, the Entertainment Industry and Charity. I cannot think of him without thinking of the movie Tommy. For the longest I thought he was Elton John. (I know! I was a confused kid!)
Raymond Douglas "Ray" Davies, (The Kinks) - Services to Music
Dr. Brian May - May's guitar solo from "Brighton Rock" listed in the top 50 Rock and Roll guitar solos of all time by Guitar World.
I was a huge Queen fan pretty early on, and adore them all. I am especially thankful for Brian's efforts to fight AIDS since the death of Freddie Mercury. Brian was a saint all those years with Queen, taking back stage to Freddie's huge personality, yet being so talented in his own right. That's what Queen was, really: Four phenomenally talented musicians coming together in a sound that will never be duplicated.
Rod Stewart, for Services to Music. I Love "Tonight's the Night" - really great for a slow dance! Rod has that incredible raspy voice that's totally made for Rock!
Robert Plant (Singer, Led Zeppelin) Services to popular music. When he received his award, Prince Charles suggested Led Zeppelin should reunite (here here, Prince Charles!) What is the first song we all learned to play when we got our own guitar? Of course! "Stairway to Heaven".
Status Quo Rockin' OBE's and MBE's
Officers and Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi (right), founding members of British rock band Status Quo, with the OBEs that were awarded to them by The Queen at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, February 2010. Â© Press Association
More Rockin' member of the MBE and OBE
- 1985: John Kennedy, OBE (Trustee of Band Aid & Live Aid)
Alan Civil, OBE - Horn Player "A Day in the Life" from Sgt Pepper's
- 2000: Noddy Holder of rock band "Slade", MBE for services to showbusiness
- 2004: Members of The Shadows (Pioneers of the four-member rock group format) were each given the OBE, but Hank Marvin declined his. Members of the Shadows (after Cliff Richard left): Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan
- 2005: James Patrick (Jimmy) Page, OBE (Guitarist: The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin) in recognition of his Brazilian charity work for Task Brazil and Action for Brazil's Children's Trust
- 2007: Joe Cocker, OBE, for services to music. My favorite Joe C song ever? "You can leave your hat on" such a sultry song, and perfect for his gritty voice.
- 2008: Ian Scott Anderson, MBE Scottish (Flautist for Jethro Tull)
- 2010: Rick Parfitt, OBE and Francis Rossi, OBE of Status Quo (The Quo) for services to music
Resources used in making this lens - And a few more thrown in for fun
- 10 Music Stars Knighted By The Queen Of England
Every year, Queen Elizabeth II awards knighthoods to certain individuals, which allows them to use the title "Sir" or "Dame" (for women) before their names. Modern knights have no actual responsibilities - fighting crusades, seizing castles, or joust
- Knights of Rock
Music commentator Glenn A. Baker joined TODAY to have a look back at musicians who have been honoured.
- Rockers Or Knights? | Music News | Rolling Stone
When Eric Clapton was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire last month, he joined an elite group of British rockers, including Sting, Ray
- Order of the British Empire
The Order of the British Empire recognises distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organisations of all kinds.
Adele with Prince Charles - 2013 was her year!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Have I left someone out? I did a lot of research but never found a good comprehensive list, so I'm sure there is someone I left out. Please share if you know of someone I missed who should be included!