Les Paul would have turned 102 this year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee died in 2009, but his legacy lives on through the foundation which bears his name. To celebrate Paul’s birthday on June 9, the Les Paul Foundation presented a Spirit Award to Grammy winning U2 guitarist The Edge during an intimate dinner at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
The Edge is a longtime supporter of music education through Ireland’s Music Generation and an advocate for musicians’ health and livelihood through organizations such as Music Rising, a campaign he founded in 2005 to replace musical instruments lost in Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the Spirit Award, a grant from the Les Paul Foundation and Bonnaroo Works Fund will be made in The Edge’s name to the charity of his choice.
Prior to the gifting of the Les Paul Spirit Award and The Edge’s remarks about his onetime meeting with Paul, teen student ambassadors Christa Beth Campbell and Eli Ensor (from Notes for Notes, a nonprofit which staffs after-school recording studios inside Boys & Girls Clubs) kicked off the event with performances of U2’s “Ordinary Love” and “With or Without You.” Guy Oseary, superstar music manager of U2 and Madonna, watched in the wings, along with a group of Bonnaroo’s original founders.
“Bonnaroo is good place for us [to present this award] because the festival attracts a generation who really doesn’t know who Les was,” says Les Paul Foundation Executive Director, Michael Braunstein. “Les even used to joke onstage, ‘People think I’m dead or I’m just a brand of guitar.’ But the Foundation’s work is helping us to put Les’s name back into the curriculum as we work with universities and schools on music initiatives. It’s great that players like The Edge are willing to come out and say, ‘Hey, I know [who Les Paul was].’ “
So, who was Les Paul? The Wisconsin player was an inventor as well as performer, and the multi-track techniques and licks he innovated over decades of rock and roll recordings echo in The Edge’s chiming rhythms and soaring solos as well as in the sounds of guitarists Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Slash, Paul family friend Steve Miller, and others. Les Paul worked with everyone from Nat Cole and Bing Crosby to Chet Atkins and his second wife Mary Ford. (Click here to see fifteen of the guitarists who play the Gibson guitar named after Les Paul. And read about the differences and similarities of semi-hollow and hollow-body Les Paul guitars made by Gibson and Epiphone here.)
Each year, the Les Paul Foundation awards grants for youth, sound and engineering, and funding for medical research and programs related to hearing impairment. The Foundation has supported the Grammy Foundation’s Les Paul Centennial GRAMMY Signature School Community Award and Guitars for Vets, which helps military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder heal through music instruction. Paul himself had entertained troops during WWII and recruited performers such as Dinah Shore to perform on behalf of the Armed Forces Radio Service. The Les Paul Spirit Award emphasizes the importance of honoring and remembering the musical legacy of the 20th century – a renaissance of creativity and technology Paul helped create. Want to smile? Check out this early Les Paul performance with Mary Ford: “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise.” What a fitting title for 2017.
Congrats to The Edge!
For more information about the Les Paul Foundation or to apply for a grant, click here.