Ringo Starr Is Knighted at Last, More Than 20 Years Too Late

I was delighted to learn that Ringo Starr was named last week as a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (or KBE), meaning that the once-most-lovable-Mop-Top shall henceforth be officially addressed as Sir Richard Starkey. It’s an honor the 77-year-old Starr has waited far too long to receive, especially since Paul McCartney received his Knighthood more than twenty years ago in 1997. Even more problematic is the fact that neither John Lennon nor George Harrison were ever offered their deserving Knighthoods at all.

It may very well be that The Queen’s advisors – the ones who decide which Loyal Subjects receive such high honors – have realized their error in not knighting all four Beatles a long time ago, and are now trying to right a wrong. I really hope this is the case, because more than any other band, the unparalleled accomplishments of The Beatles were made as a team and not as a collection of individuals, and they should always be recognized that way.

Ironically The Queen’s people actually got this right in 1965 when they awarded each Beatle an MBE, the lowest tier of Royal honors. By handing out four honors were they recognizing that The Beatles were an inseparable tight-knit unit greater than the sum of its parts? And if so how could they have forgotten this critical distinction after this group literally changed the world over the subsequent five years?

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The problem was that well into the 1980s, the exalted blue bloods who hand out these honors didn’t believe that Rock stars were worthy of full Knighthood status. That all changed in 1986 when the Boomtown Rats’ Bob Geldof was knighted for his work organizing the Live Aid charity concerts. By taking into consideration a candidate’s charitable work, they finally opened the door to Knighthood for all those unkempt heathen Rockers.

But it didn’t exactly open the floodgates. The next Rock KBE didn’t get awarded until 1996, and that one went to Beatles’ producer George Martin, who was probably the most naturally knightly figure in the history of Rock. McCartney got his the following year, and it’s probably fair to assume that John Lennon would have been awarded at the same time had he been alive, but KBEs are not awarded posthumously.

In any case the Rock Knighthoods came steadily after that. In the last 20 years they have been awarded to, in chronological order, Elton John, Mick Jagger, Bono, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison and Ray Davies. (David Bowie, god love him, rejected the honor when it was offered). And what do all these artists have in common? They are all the undisputed front men for their respective bands, making it easier to single them out for honors.

Except for their earliest days in Liverpool, The Beatles stood apart from most other bands because they never had an undisputed front man. They were all-for-one and one-for all. Maybe The Queen’s advisors did recognize this and felt it was inappropriate to bestow the Knighthood on the three surviving members after Lennon had passed away. But whatever their motives, it remains a travesty that George Harrison never got his KBE – you want to talk about charitable works? – and I’d like to think that if he were still alive, he would have been Knighted alongside his buddy Ringo last week, the first Rock “sidemen” to be so honored, better late than never.

Photo: By Jean Fortunet (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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