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Overview for Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland


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Also Known As: Stewart Armstrong Copeland Died:
Born: July 16, 1952 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Alexandria, Virginia, USA Profession: Music ... composer musician musical arranger disc jockey tour manager


A founding member of the English pop-rock group The Police, Stewart Copeland was also the group's propulsive, versatile drummer whose innate grasp of jazz, new wave and world music rhythms later contributed to a successful tenure as a film composer. Copeland launched the group with Sting in 1977, and after adding guitarist Andy Summers, saw it rise from the New wave scene of the late 1970s to global popularity in the early 1980s. When The Police split in 1984, Copeland moved into soundtrack work, writing dense, rhythmic scores for such films as "Wall Street" (1987). By the 1990s, he was in demand as a composer for film and theater, which largely curtailed his rock efforts. But he reunited with his Police mates in 2007 to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary with a record-breaking world tour. Its success gave both longtime fans and a new generation of listeners ample proof of Copeland's status as one of the most innovative drummers in popular music.

Born July 16, 1952 in Alexandria, VA, Stewart Armstrong Copeland was the youngest of four children born to Miles Copeland, Jr., a former trumpeter who later worked for the Office of Strategic Services and Central Intelligence Agency, and Lorraine Adlie, who also worked for British Intelligence prior to her acclaimed career as an archaeologist. An older brother, Miles Copeland III, would later serve as the Police's manager and founded the influential punk/New wave record label I.R.S. Records, while another sibling, Ian Copeland, created Frontier Booking International (FBI), a talent agency that represented many prominent New wave bands. The family moved to the Middle East shortly after Copeland's birth, resulting in his formative years spent in Cairo and Beirut. He began playing drums at age 12 and was proficient enough to play at school dances in his early teens.

Copeland attended secondary school in England during the late 1960s before moving on to college at United States International University and UC Berkeley. Following graduation, he returned to England, where he served as road manager for the progressive rock band Curved Air before assuming drumming duties for the band in 1975 before it dissolved that same year. He also became romantically involved with the group's vocalist, Sonja Kristina, whom he married in 1982. Copeland was eager to start a new band in the wake of Curved Air's demise, and soon began rehearsing with French guitarist Henry Padovani and Gordon Sumner, a British bassist who went by the stage name of Sting. In 1977, the lineup joined ex-Gong bassist Mike Howlett in a new project called Strontium 90, in which they were joined by Andy Summers, a veteran of the British psychedelic and experimental rock scenes. The quartet left Howlett that same year to form their own group, The Police, which eventually shed Padovani to become a trio.

The newly formed group's unique sound, which blended elements of pop and punk with tight funk and reggae rhythms, quickly attracted an audience in the U.K. By the early 1980s, The Police had risen to the top of the pop-rock charts on the strength of such hit songs as the Grammy-winning "Don't Stand So Close To Me," "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," "King of Pain" and "Every Breath You Take," with the latter two springing forth from their massively successful 1983 album Synchronicity. Initially, Copeland was the main songwriter for The Police, but as time passed, Sting became the group's dominant musical voice, which resulted in tension between the two performers. The conflicts escalated to outright arguments in the studio, which eventually contributed to the band premature breaking up in 1984. Another contributing factor was each member's growing interest in projects outside the boundaries of the Police. Copeland began exploring soundtrack work, beginning in 1983 with his Golden Globe-nominated score for Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish," and traveled to Africa to explore the relationship between rhythm and nature in the surreal feature "The Rhythmatist" (1985).

For the better part of the next two decades, Copeland immersed himself in soundtrack work, composing music for the acclaimed crime series "The Equalizer" (CBS, 1985-89) and collaborating musically with such directors as Oliver Stone on "Wall Street" (1987), John Hughes on "She's Having a Baby" (1988), Ken Loach on "Raining Stones" (1991), Bruce Beresford on "Silent Fall" (1994) and Peter Berg on "Very Bad Things" (1998). During this period, Copeland explored classical composition, penning the ballets "King Lear" for the San Francisco Ballet Company in 1986 and "Emilio" for Italy's Trento Ballet Company in 1988. There were also flirtations with opera, most notably "Holy Blood & Crescent Moon" for the Cleveland Opera in 1989. But Copeland also continued his work in pop and rock, playing on records by Peter Gabriel and Tom Waits, and teaming with jazz legend Stanley Clarke in Animal Logic.

In 2000, he partnered with Primus bassist Les Claypool and Trey Anastasio of Phish for the experimental funk band Oysterhead. Less harmonious was his teaming with Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger in 2002 for a new version of The Doors. Copeland was injured prior to recording the album, which resulted in him leaving the project amidst a flurry of lawsuits. He rebounded with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of The Police, and then an Emmy nomination for his soundtrack to the Showtime dark comedy "Dead Like Me" (2003-04), as well the documentary "Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out" (2005), which featured photographs and Super-8 footage of the band from its early days to its final tour before their break-up. In 2007, Copeland joined Sting and Summers for a year-long tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band's conception. Their global jaunt took in over $340 million in ticket sales, which made it the third highest-grossing tour in music history. Upon its completion, Copeland composed brief musical themes for the Blackberry Bold, then penned a number of orchestral works for various American music festivals and stage productions. The year 2009 saw the release of Copeland's memoir Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies. The following year, Copeland placed fifth on a Rolling Stone readers' poll of the greatest drummers of all time.

By Paul Gaita

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