Who Was The First Musician To Be Knighted By Queen Elizabeth II?

Before her death last year, Queen Elizabeth II knighted quite a few musicians for their contributions to British popular culture. The list includes some who weren't even British, including Bono, Ravi Shankar, and Placido Domingo of The Three Tenors, per Billboard. Officially, non-British recipients of knighthood or damehood can't be called sir or dame, according to the Los Angeles Times. Instead, the honorific can follow their names with the three-letter designation of their particular order of knighthood. For instance, Bono, who is from the Republic of Ireland, can use the letters GBE for Knight Grand Cross, the highest order of British knighthood (via Rock 929). 

The other orders, in ascending importance, are Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), and knight or dame commander (KBE or DBE). Many of the knighted musicians found their fame in the era of classic rock, including Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, and Robert Plant. But who was the first musician to receive this honor? Well, the answer depends on how you ask the question.

Cliff Richard, GBE

If you want to know who was the first musician knighted for just their music contributions, the answer is Cliff Richard. Though not very well-known in the U.S., Britannica explains that he was Britain's first rock star, considered the "British Elvis Presley." Billboard states that he's one of the best-selling musical artists of all time in the U.K. Per Britannica, he's had more than 100 hits in Britain, beginning with 1958's "Move It." Richard was backed by a group called The Shadows. He also had some success as an actor in "clean teen" films like "The Young Ones" (1961) and "Summer Holiday" (1962). The Beatles' popularity slowed him down a little, but not completely. His career continued into the 21st century.

Per Billboard, he was knighted on Oct. 25, 1995. Although he was born in India, he is a British citizen, so he can be called Sir Cliff. Later in life, he moved to Barbados and gained Barbadian citizenship as well (via The Daily Telegraph). However, he wasn't the first-ever knighted musician.

Bob Geldof, KBE

If you want to know who the first musician knighted for any reason was, the answer is Bob Geldof (pictured above celebrating his knighthood with Paula Yates). However, he didn't receive the honor for his work with The Boomtown Rats. Instead, he was knighted in 1986 for his humanitarian work. He's also Irish, so his knighthood is honorary (via Far Out Magazine).

As noted by The Royal Society for the Arts, Geldof founded the supergroup Band Aid in 1984, recruiting fellow future knights Bono and Sting, as well as several other British and Irish stars of the time, like Phil Collins and Boy George. Geldof's goal was to raise money for Ethiopian famine victims with a charity single. They had only 24 hours to record together in a London studio, but their song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released four days later and became a hit (via WMGK). Geldof also organized the Live Aid concert the following year. Between the single and the concert, he helped raise £150 million for the famine victims. Some of the money also went towards economic development in Africa, per The Royal Society for the Arts.

Separately, Geldof was honored with the Freedom of the City of Dublin award. He returned it later in protest of Aung San Suu Kyi's — a fellow recipient — treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The move caused controversy since no British government actions have caused him to reject his knighthood (via Far Out Magazine).