Stewart Armstrong Copeland was born in Alexandria, Virginia. His family moved to Cairo, Egypt a few months after his birth, and Copeland spent his formative years in the Middle East. In 1957, the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon where Copeland attended the American Community School.
He started drum lessons at age twelve and by age thirteen he was playing drums for school dances. Later he moved to England. Copeland went to college at United States International University and UC Berkeley.
Returning to England, he worked as road manager then drummer for the progressive rock band Curved Air's 1974 reunion tour.
In 1977, Copeland founded The Police with singer-bassist Sting and guitarist Henry Padovani (who was soon replaced by Andy Summers), which became one of the top bands of the 1980s.
Copeland also recorded under the pseudonym Klark Kent, releasing several UK singles in 1978 with one ("Don't Care") entering the UK Singles Chart that year, In 1980, he released a self-titled 10-inch green vinyl album. Recorded at Nigel Gray's Surrey Sound Studio, Copeland played all the instruments himself.
In 1982 Copeland was involved in the production of a WOMAD benefit album called Music and Rhythm. In 1983, Copeland composed a musical score to earn a Golden Globe nomination for his scoring of Rumble Fish.
After The Police stopped touring in 1984, Copeland established a career composing soundtracks for movies (Airborne, Talk Radio, Wall Street, Riff Raff, Raining Stones, Surviving the Game, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Highlander II: The Quickening, The Leopard Son, She's Having a Baby, Taking Care of Business, West Beirut, I am David, Good Burger), television (The Equalizer, Dead Like Me, Star Wars: Droids, the original pilot for Babylon 5, Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show, The Life and Times of Juniper Lee) and video games (Spyro the Dragon and The Agents), along with operas; Holy Blood and Crescent Moon. and ballets.
In 1985, Copeland released a solo album, The Rhythmatist. The record was the result of a pilgrimage to Africa and its people, and it features local drums and percussion. The album was the official soundtrack to the movie of the same name, which was co-written by Stewart.
In 1988 Copeland followed up with The Equalizer & Other Cliff Hangers and No Speak, an album collecting some of his soundtrack efforts. In 1986, Copeland teamed with Adam Ant to record the title track and video for the movie Out of Bounds.
In 1989, Copeland formed Animal Logic with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and singer songwriter Deborah Holland. The trio had success with their first album but the followup recording sold poorly, and the band did not continue.
Copeland has occasionally played drums for other artists including Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tom Waits. In 1993 he composed the music for Ch 4's Horse Opera. He was commissioned by Insomniac Games and Universal Interactive Studios (now Vivendi) in 1998 to make the musical scores for the hit PlayStation game Spyro the Dragon.
In 2000, he combined with Les Claypool of Primus and Trey Anastasio of Phish to create the band Oysterhead. That same year, he was approached by director Adam Collis to assemble the score for the film Sunset Strip.
In 2005, Copeland released Orchestralli, a live recording of chamber ensemble music which he had composed during a short tour of Italy in 2002. Also in 2005, Copeland started Gizmo, a new project with avant-garde guitarist David Fiuczynski. The band made their U.S debut on September 16, 2006 at the Modern Drummer Drum Festival.
In January 2006, Copeland premiered his film about the Police called Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out at the Sundance Film Festival.
At the 2007 Grammy Awards, Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting performed the song "Roxanne" together again as The Police. This marked the band's first public performance since 1986. They had previously reunited only for an improvised set at Sting's wedding party in 1992 and for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Copeland soon released the compilation album The Stewart Copeland Anthology.
In March 2008, Copeland premiered a new orchestral composition "Celeste" at "An Evening with Stewart Copeland," part of the Savannah Music Festival. On August 21, 2009, at SummerFest '09, Copeland unveiled a recent composition, "Retail Therapy." Copeland then performed three more original works: "Kaya," "Celeste" and "Gene Pool."
In September 2009, a memoir by Copeland entitled Strange Things Happen: A Life with The Police, Polo, and Pygmies was released by Harper Collins. The book chronicles much of Copeland's life, from his childhood through the course of his work with The Police and to the present.
In 2008, Copeland was commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to create a percussion piece involving primarily Indonesian instruments. "Gamelan D’Drum." It was first performed in Dallas on February 5, 2011.
Copeland was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine's reader poll as the fifth greatest drummer of all time.