The Queen’s Jubilee: a reflection on music

As the Queen’s Jubilee approaches, and celebrations begin around the country and further afield, this sure is a time to celebrate and commemorate the Queen and the contributions she has made over the past 70 years. Throughout the centuries, monarchs have made their mark on our musical history. From royal commissions for coronations, weddings and funerals, to works by monarchs themselves, the royal families of the world have left us a rich musical legacy. Let us celebrate Queen Elizabeth II with music which defined her life and reign. 

Here at Ambie, we are passionate about all things music, so in honour of the Queen, we’ve delved deeper into her love and appreciation for music, some key stars who have been knighted as well as some of her top songs. Even before being crowned, the Queen showed an interest and aptitude for music learning piano at the ripe age of just 11, and throughout her early life was tutored in madrigal practice by Sir William Henry Harris alongside her sister Margaret. She continued to enjoy and practice music throughout her youth and in 1946 was an Honorary Bachelor of Music degree from the University of London, 6 years before ascending the throne. This is, therefore, fittingly symbolic of her commitment to music.

Queen’s Medal for Music

As well as being a lover of music, the Queen has always been a champion of artists too, giving significant praise and awards to musicians. The one such prize is the Queen’s Medal for Music which began in 2005 and has since been awarded to composers, conductors, pianists, organists, and classical vocalists. This Medal is awarded annually to an outstanding individual or group of musicians who have had a major influence on the musical life of the nation. The first award was given to Sir Charles Mackerras CBE, and the latest winner in 2021 was John Wallace CBE.

“I am honoured and humbled to accept this award.  I work with many teams of inspiring musicians across every genre of music and aspect of music education in Scotland. I just light the touch-paper and stand back. This award is recognition of the indomitable spirit of those musicians.”

John Wallace CBE

Musicians given the Royal nod

The Queen is no stranger to popular music either though. Over the past years, the Queen has given the highest honours to some of the country’s biggest names in popular music and philanthropic musicians. Below are just some of these legends who have been knighted:

Bob Geldof – knighted in 1986 for his contributions to humanitarian efforts

Bob Geldof was the lead singer of the Irish post-punk era band, The Boomtown Rats. In 1984, Geldof and Midge Ure founded the “Band Aid” organisation to raise funding and awareness for those suffering from starvation in Africa. Geldof’s organisation started the famous “Live Aid” concerts in 1985.

Evelyn Glennie – knighted in 1993 for her contributions to classical music

Dame Evelyn Glennie is one of the most famous percussionists in the world. Despite being completely deaf, her talents have earned her 15 honorary doctorates from some of the most prestigious global universities. She has performed with some of the most talented orchestras in the world and been featured on recordings with members of Genesis, Bjork, Bela Fleck, and Bob McFerrin.

Cliff Richard – knighted in 1995 for his musical merits

Sir Clifford Richard is the 3rd best-selling singles artist in the UK. He and Elvis Presley are the only two solo musicians in history to have had a single make the UK Singles Chart in its first six decades of existence. He is the only musician to have a #1 hit on the UK Singles chart in 5 consecutive decades.  An actively practicing philanthropist, he has always given 10%+ of his annual income to charity, specifically Alzheimer’s research, and to causes that work to eliminate poverty.

George Martin – knighted in 1996 for his musical contributions to the world

Known as the “Fifth Beatle”, George Martin was the band’s record producer throughout their active years. He sure has earned his share of Honours, including an Oscar, a Grammy and entry into the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame.

Paul McCartney – knighted in 1997 for his service to music

McCartney is one of the best-selling artists of all time due to his work with both The Beatles and Wings. In 1965, the bassist and singer was given the honour of becoming a Member of the British Empire along with the rest of The Beatles. Aside from his pioneering musical career, McCartney was also knighted because of his efforts to protect animals.

Elton John – knighted in 1998 for his music and charity work

Having already become a Commander of the British Empire, Sir Elton John was knighted for both his music and his charity work involving AIDS and the LGBT community. After Princess Diana’s untimely death, Elton re-worked his song “Candle In The Wind” for her after it had originally been written in tribute to Marilyn Monroe.

Tom Jones – knighted in 1999 for his services to music

Tom Jones is a famous Welsh singer known for songs like “What’s New Pussycat,” “She’s a Lady,” and “It’s Not Unusual.” In 2006, Tom was officially knighted after having previously received the honor of the OBE in 1999.

Bono – knighted in 2007 for his Charitable contributions

The most recent pop-star to be knighted was U2’s Bono. Having Irish nationality, Bono cannot use “Sir” as part of his name,but instead can sign his name as Paul David Hewson, KBE. Despite U2’s long and storied musical career, Bono is the only pop superstar on the list whose knighthood had nothing to do with his musical contributions, but rather his 2’s long and storied musical career, apparently, Bono’s knighthood had nothing to do with music. Rather, Bono has a longstanding devotion to making various charitable contributions to Africa and his work to eradicate the AIDS pandemic. 

In the 2009 BBC documentary – Our Queen: 90 Musical Years – the Queen’s 10 favourite pieces of music were revealed, giving us all a deep insight into what music is closest to the Queen’s heart. The list includes a variety of theatre and musicals as well as some pop songs from across the decades:

  • Oklahoma! by Howard Keel
  • Anything You Can Do (Annie Get Your Gun) by Dolores Gray and Bill Johnson
  • Sing by Gary Barlow and The Commonwealth Band featuring the Military Wives
  • Cheek to Cheek by Fred Astaire
  • The White Cliffs of Dover by Vera Lynn
  • Leaning on a Lamp-post by George Formby
  • Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven (hymn)
  • The Lord is My Shepherd (hymn)
  • Lester Lanin Medley
  • Regimental March Milanollo

Cheers to the Queen

And to conclude, throughout her 70-year reign, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, has been a generous patron of classical music and the arts. Her involvement in the nation’s musical life is reflected in the positions Her Majesty appoints, musical honours she awards regularly, her patronage of music and music institutions, and her regular attendance at concerts and other classical music events.

And as we go onto celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee as a nation, there’s nothing more fitting than a massive concert at Buckingham Palace, which will see the performance of some of the greatest loved artists, including Diana Ross, Queen + Adam Lambert, Alicia Keys and Duran Duran as well as varied artists such as Hanz Zimmer, Celeste, and Elbow. The Queen’s love of show tunes won’t be forgotten either, with performances from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

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