Starting in 1901, the Swedish Academy annually bestows a prestigious award upon an individual that they deemed “has produced the most outstanding work in an ideal direction” within the field of literature. This is famously known as the Nobel Prize in Literature, which counts many revolutionary and brilliant authors as its laureates, including T.S. Eliot, Jean Paul Sartre, Rudyard Kipling, John Steinbeck, George Bernard Shaw, and Toni Morrison, just to name a few. However, this past week, it was announced that the next recipient of the honor will be much different than those in the past. Rather than choosing a literary writer, the Swedish Academy opted to select a songwriter for the first time. On December 10, Bob Dylan, the legendary folk rock musician will be named the 2016 Nobel laureate in Literature. Fans of his music consider his lyrical style to be a form of poetry, so it makes sense that he would be considered for the honor. Nonetheless, this announcement is a momentous event, as it opens the door for music to be recognized as more than something that you listen to on the radio.
Born in 1941 with the name Robert Allen Zimmerman, the Minnesota native started his career in the music business while he was in college. He performed at a coffee shop in Minneapolis called the Ten O’Clock Scholar, and subsequently joined the popular folk music circuit in the Dinkytown neighborhood of the city. He took the stage name “Bob Dylan” from one of his inspirations, poet Dylan Thomas, and decided to drop out of the University of Minnesota to move to New York City and pursue his new profession. After playing gigs at a number of clubs around Greenwich Village, he signed with Columbia Records in October 1961, and released his debut self-titled album five months later. Many people working at the label believed that signing Dylan was a mistake, but producer John Hammond and country music star Johnny Cash staunchly defended the up-and-coming talent. Many critics – then and now – believed that Dylan had a less than pleasing voice. However, he made a name for himself from his catchy compositions and beautiful lyrics. He could write eloquently about resentment in “Positively 4th Street” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” describe abstract concepts in “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Tangled Up in Blue,” and fight to bring about change in “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Hurricane.” Over his career, Dylan has made thirty-seven studio albums, eleven live albums, and fifty-eight singles, including twelve that reached Billboard’s Top 40. His former backup band, simply called The Band, went on to become a successful act in their own right, and were popular enough to play at Woodstock. The singer-songwriter has been cited as a major influence on countless musicians, and other popular artists – like Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, and Adele – cover his work to pay tribute to his legacy. With all of the praise he has earned as a performer and artist, Bob Dylan certainly has the credentials to be a Nobel laureate.
This prize is far from the first that Dylan has received. In addition to twelve Grammy Awards out of forty-three nominations, he won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his song, “Things Have Changed” in the film, Wonder Boys. Furthermore, he has been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as three albums, two singles, and a track in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Furthermore, he has received a Pulitzer Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a National Medal of Arts, The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award, a Prince of Asturias Award, a Polar Music Prize, honorary doctorate degrees from Princeton University and St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, and the titles of “Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres” and “Officier de la Legion d’honneur.” For such a luminary in his craft, it is fitting that Dylan has obtained so many accolades. As a Nobel laureate, the seventy-five-year-old icon will be able to add yet another achievement to his name. However, while having recognition is great, Bob Dylan’s legacy lies solely within his music, and he will be immortalized by his classic songs that will continue to be enjoyed for generations.