Music Honours

Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2019 New Year Honours in the UK, recognising those who have made a particular contribution to public life. Although we hear about Honours given to various celebrities and other well-known names, most of them are awarded to ordinary people for their service in science, education, charity work, the arts and other fields. I thought it would be interesting to investigate those given Honours for services to Music.

All of the Honours awarded since 1860 have been announced in The Gazette, and are available online in PDF format. The awards since 2008 are also available in a more usable CSV format on the website, and it is this data that I have used. The data contains the name, the award (OBE, Knighthood, etc), the County, and a brief Citation, explaining what it is for (‘for services to music’, etc).

There were 1,148 Honours announced yesterday. This is roughly the number that has been awarded every half-year since the middle of 2012 (the Queen’s Birthday Honours are announced in June). Prior to that, the number was just under 1,000 each time.1 In total, since the 2008 New Year, 24,930 Honours have been awarded. Of these, 586 mention ‘music’ in the citation – about 2.35%, or one in 43.

The most common terms mentioned in citations include ‘community’ (22%), ‘education’ (11%), ‘health’ (5.2%), ‘industry’ (4.4%), ‘children’ (4.4%), ‘business’ (3.2%), ‘sport’ (3.2%), and ‘science’ (2.4%). Music is the most commonly mentioned of the arts.

Interestingly, as the chart above shows, the proportion of Honours awarded for services to music has been increasing over the last ten years, from 2% in 2008, to almost 3%.2 Although these awards sometimes go to prominent performers or composers, the most common other words appearing in music citations are ‘director’ (16%), ‘community’ (12%), and ‘education’ (12%), suggesting that it is the organisers of music in community and education projects that are receiving most of the Honours.

Honours for music are not spread evenly over the country. The counties with more than 4% of their Honours for music are Cardiff, Armagh, Perth & Kinross, Suffolk, Swansea, London and Glasgow.3 With the exception of Suffolk and the capital, all of these are in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Of the 25 counties with less than 1.5% of Honours for music, all but two (Renfrewshire and Fife) are in England.

As the chart above shows, you are more likely to get an Honour for music if you live in London. Around 30% of music Honours are awarded to Londoners, compared to under 20% of Honours overall. This has become a more significant effect over the last decade, with London increasing its share.

Most Honours, and most music Honours, are MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire), accounting for almost half of the total. The higher Honour of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) is less likely to be for music (1.8% of OBEs, compared to 2.3% of MBEs), whereas the lower BEM (British Empire Medal) is more likely to be for music (3.0%). Thus, although music is well represented overall, it is biased towards the lower Honours.4

Although the data does not include genders, it is possible to estimate the gender of most recipients of Honours from their first names or titles. The chart below reveals that women are underrepresented overall (but catching up), but have been seriously underrepresented for music Honours, with about half as many as are awarded to men.

Although women are now close to 50% of overall Honours, there appears to be some discrimination in the distribution between awards. Over the last ten years, women have accounted for 48% of MBEs, but only 41% of the higher OBEs, whereas they have been awarded 56% of the lower BEMs.

So, music is the best represented of all of the Arts in the UK Honours system, which rightly focuses on the otherwise unsung work that goes on in community and education work. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are well represented, but the English awards are very dominated by London (and becoming more so). Women are underrepresented in music, but are catching up. Both music (perhaps reasonably) and women (probably unreasonably) are skewed towards the lower ranking awards.

Cite this article as: Gustar, A.J. 'Music Honours' in Statistics in Historical Musicology, 30th December 2018,
  1. The increase was largely due to the reintroduction of the British Empire Medal in 2012, which had been discontinued twenty years earlier.
  2. The dots are the actual data for each set of Honours. The blue line is a line of best fit, showing the underlying trend – although bear in mind that there are significant variations from year to year, so this line is approximate.
  3. This list only considers counties with at least 100 Honours in total, so some small ones are excluded.
  4. Over 85% of music Honours are one of MBE, OBE or BEM.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.