Over the past twenty years we have seen some of the biggest names in popular music become knighted. Knighthood is one of the highest honors the nation of Great Britain can bestow upon a person. In order for a performing musician to be knighted, they must meet two major criteria. They must not only be very influential in their chosen field, but they must also have a strong record as a humanitarian.
The British Honors System has been around for many years. Knighthood is one of the highest honors in the system. There are different types of knights. It depends on what organization they are being knighted into. Most musicians are either Knights (KT) or Knights of the British Empire (KBE). Women who receive knighthood are known as Dames of the British Empire (DEB). However, there is a lower honor than knighthood which has been given to many famous musicians. Member of the British Empire (MBE) or Officer of the British Empire (OBE) are the highest honors one can receive without being officially knighted. Musicians who have achieved this status include Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Joe Cocker. These people may at some point be knighted, but it takes more than just being a great musician to given the honor of being called a knight of the round table.
This list takes us through the past twenty years of pop music stars who became knights. They are not ranked in order of best to worst. A knight is a knight. No matter what, they are equal in greatness. Instead, this list is organized by when a person was given the honor. It starts from the earliest and moves forward to the most recent.
10. Bob Geldof
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” organization. The goal of this organization was to raise funding and awareness for those suffering from starvation in Africa. Geldof’s organization started the famous “Live Aid” concerts in 1985. He was knighted on June 10, 1986 for his contributions to humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia and other impoverished African nations. Because of Geldof’s Irish citizenship, he is not to use the title “Sir” in front of his name. Instead, his full name is Robert Frederick Zenon Geldof, KBE. However, because he was one of the earliest pop stars to be knighted, the media often refers to him as “Sir Bob”.
9. Evelyn Glennie
Dame Evely Glennie is probably the least known person on this list. Glennie is one of the most famous percussionists in the world. Despite being completely deaf, Glennie’s talents have earned her fifteen honorary doctorates from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Since she is deaf, Glennie plays barefoot and feels the vibration from the other instruments through the ground in order to know what is happening in the piece. She was knighted in 1993 at the age of 27. Glennie has performed with some of the most talented orchestras in the world and has also been featured on recordings with members of Genesis, Bjork, Bela Fleck, and Bob McFerrin.
8. Cliff Richard
Sir Clifford Richard was knighted on June 17, 1995. He is the third best-selling singles artist in the United Kingdom. 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 number one hit on the UK Singles chart in five consecutive decades. Richard was actually the first rock and roll star to be knighted by the Queen on account of his musical merits. Geldof was knighted for humanitarian efforts and Glennie was knighted for her contributions to classical music. Sir Clifford is also known as a philanthropist. He has always given ten percent or more of his annual income to charity, specifically Alzheimer’s research, and to causes that work to eliminate poverty.
7. George Martin
George Martin is known as “The Fifth Beatle”. He was the band’s record producer throughout their active years. He was the first of the group to be knighted. Aside from his work with The Beatles, Martin also helped produce records for many other performers and has come to be known as one of the greatest record producers of all time. He also does a lot of work for the Caribbean island Monserrat and the organization called The Prince’s Trust. The Prince’s Trust was founded in 1976 by Charles Prince of Wales and works to improve the lives of impoverished children through educational methods. Sir George Martin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on June 15, 1996.
6. Paul McCartney
Less than a year after George Martin was knighted, Paul McCartney was also given the honor. Knighted on March 11, 1997; 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 honor of becoming a Member of the British Empire along with the rest of the members of The Beatles. He is the only performing member of the band to be knighted. Both Lennon and Harrison died before the honor could be bestowed on them. Aside from his pioneering musical career, McCartney was also knighted because of his efforts to protect animals. He is a strict vegetarian and has done extensive work with the PETA organization.
5. Elton John
Sir Elton Hercules John was knighted on April 24, 1998. Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Elton John has gone on to become one of the best selling pop artists of all time. Aside from his career as a performing musician, he has also composed scores for theatre, film, and orchestras. His candidacy for knighthood was only improved by his constant efforts to help eliminate the AIDS virus. Elton John has donated a great deal of time and money to the cause. He has raised millions of pounds through concerts, albums, and many other promotional methods in order to help eradicate the disease.
4. Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey is another lesser known member of this list. Bassey’s career as a singer began in the 1950s. Since she is of African descent, her rise to prominence was not an easy one. However, she did eventually achieve international success as the singer and songwriter for many of the James Bond theme songs. Her best know are the themes from Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker. She became Dame Shirley Veronica Bassey on December 31, 1999.
3. Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar is known as the most famous sitar virtuoso in history. He was knighted on March 27, 2001. Shankar is unable to hold the title “Sir Ravi Shankar” because he is a citizen of India. The sitar is known as one of the most complex string instruments in the world. Shankar was responsible for bringing the instrument and all Indian music to the rest of the world. His influence on The Beatles in the late 1960s skyrocketed his career. He would go on to perform at some of the biggest music festivals in history, including Woodstock. He is often referred to as “Pandit Ravi Shankar”. The word “pandit” means teacher or scholar in Indian.
2. Mick Jagger
Despite the Queen’s efforts to make sure he would never get knighted, Mick Jagger eventually did get the nod. On December 12, 2002, the lead singer of The Rolling Stones became Sir Michael Phillip Jagger. He was not knight by Queen Elizabeth, however. She purposely scheduled a doctors appointment on the day Jagger was scheduled to be knighted. Instead, he was knighted by Charles Prince of Wales. The Queen did not see him as a good candidate for the honor because of his long history of being anti-establishment. Many of his fans were outraged by his acceptance. The knighthood also caused a small rift between him and band mate Keith Richards. Unlike most names on this list, Jagger was knighted solely for his musical contributions. It is not known whether or not he donates a great deal of time or money towards charitable works.
The most recent pop star to be knighted was U2’s Bono. Being Irish, Bono cannot use “Sir” as part of his name. Instead he can sign his name as Paul David Hewson, KBE. Bono is the only pop superstar on the list whose knighthood had nothing to do with his musical contributions. He was awarded the honor soley for his charitable efforts in Africa. Bono works very closely with Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair to lobby other first world countries to increase aid to African nations.