Monica Zetterlund, jazz singer and Swedish Sensation

woman singing at a microphone with lights behind her

Swedish singer and actress Monica Zetterlund’s long career lasted for several decades, bringing acclaim for her Swedish jazz singing and worldwide cinematic fame.

Zetterlund’s musical career began in her teenage years, singing with her father’s orchestra in her hometown Hagfors, in western Sweden.

Even though she didn’t know the language well at that stage, she learnt the lyrics to English songs by listening.

When she was 21, in 1958, her debut album Swedish Sensation was released, one of more than twenty albums she released throughout her career.

After taking the jazz scene by storm in Stockholm, she performed in London and New York with well-known jazz musicians and artists.

In 1963, she represented Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest, held in London.

Her song was ‘En gång i Stockholm’, a slow jazz ballad. This style of music was not very suited to Eurovision, nor popular with the juries. Zetterlund, sadly, did not score any points (the dreaded nul points) and came joint-last in the competition.

However, this placing did not unduly affect her career. The 1963 Eurovision Song Contest saw three performers take part, each of whom continued to enjoy successful musical careers despite not winning: Françoise Hardy (who came fifth), Nana Mouskouri (who came eighth) and Monica Zetterlund.

In 1964, she recorded the jazz album Waltz for Debby which was a critical success. Through the preceding decades, as recorded music became more widespread, songs in English from the USA and UK in particular were popular. Zetterlund had, of course, learned the words to many of these songs.

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From then on, Zetterlund sang jazz songs in Swedish, often singing Swedish language covers of popular English language songs. She worked with many popular and successful song-writers and composers.

From the mid-1960s onwards, she began acting in films, television shows and plays.

Her most memorable role was in The Emigrants, a 1971 film which was nominated for five Academy Awards, and tells the story of emigration from Sweden to the USA in the 1850s. In the film, Zetterlund played Ulrika, a former prostitute who travels to Minnesota with the main characters.

Later in life, she suffered from scoliosis which had developed following a childhood accident, as well as problems with alcohol. In 2005, Monica Zetterlund, aged 67, died tragically in a house fire in Stockholm.

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: Monica Zetterlund at Norrlandia, Uppsala 1965, Uppsala-Bild, Upplandsmuseet, CC BY-NC-ND

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