Sting was honored Friday by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History for his musical and his philanthropic contributions to American culture.
The English singer, songwriter and former frontman for the Police donated the 1978 Fender Stratocaster on which he wrote several of the Police’s hits and played his first-ever solo performance for a 1981 Amnesty International benefit.
“I’ve decided to give them my Fender Strat from the ‘80s, the one I used on the 'Secret Policeman's Other Ball,'” Sting said in a statement. “There are a number of reasons why I think this is the right choice. … I wrote a lot of my hits on that guitar ('Message in a Bottle' for one). That performance marked the beginning of my move to a solo career. ... It also marked my long-standing and continuing association with Amnesty International.”
He was also recognized for starting the Rainforest Foundation with his wife, Trudie Styler, in 1989.
During the evening he participated in a question-and-answer session moderated by Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton and including composer J. Ralph, with whom Sting wrote the “The Empty Chair” from the documentary “Jim: The James Foley Story.” The original song earned an Academy Award nomination earlier this year.
The film told the story of American photojournalist Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, held hostage for two years and then killed in 2014.
Sting gave a solo acoustic performance of the song on Friday.
“I know first-hand … that Sting’s participation in the 'Secret Policeman’s Other Ball' was an inspiration to numerous other musicians,” said Martin Lewis, organizer of the Amnesty International event.
Many of those musicians “subsequently supported Amnesty International and stepped up their own social and political activism — including Bob Geldof, Peter Gabriel, Bono & U2, Jackson Browne, Bryan Adams, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Radiohead, Coldplay, Green Day and many more,” Lewis said.
“With the success from his music career he could easily have sat back, reaped the rich rewards and turned his back,” Lewis added. “He lives out John Lennon’s creed of using his success creatively as a platform to make the world a better place.”