A Swede who lives in Finland and who is lost in Euroland - the wonderful world of Eurovision
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Goodbye, Alice Babs

Alice Babs - Sweden's first Eurovision entrant - has left us, aged 90. Being the first representative is a nice title, but if that would be all she is remembered for it would reduce her to far less than she was. Her being part of Eurovision history is more a co-incidence than anything else.

Hildur Alice Nilson was only fifteen years old when she made her first recording. She sang and starred in a number of films promoting jazz music to the local youth, and sweet little Alice was seen by many to be a tool of Satan, sent to seduce young people with this sinful new music.

Things were soon to change. Thanks to her being part of the Swe-Danes and performing on US television with them, Alice Babs came into demand also outside of Sweden and was heavily marketed towards an international audience.

Copyright: Decca / Image from discogs.com

She also sang sacral music with big success and managed to combine that with her love for jazz music when her biggest idol Duke Ellington wrote two of his Sacred Concers especially for her. He later said that when Alice wasn't available to sing, he needed to hire three different singers to fill her range.

Copyright: Telstar / Image from discogs.com

Another famous story about Alice is that she was so pitch perfect that the musicians used to tune their instruments after her. She was an extraordinary musician and very much loved by her audiences in Sweden and beyond.

She was already drifting away from light entertainment music when she was called in to sing Sweden's first entry for Eurovision, but she was a logical choice for a debuting broadcaster, eager to make a good impression in an international song contest.

However, the chosen song had to be slightly modified in order to avoid accusations of plagiarism and Alice refused to sing the original lyrics and demanded new ones. When the composer prohibited the song from being recorded with other lyrics than the one he wrote, Alice decided not to record it at all. "Lilla stjärna" is one of only two Swedish entries never to be recorded by its original performer, and is nothing more than a footnote or a curiosity in her impressive career.

In Hilversum, Alice ended in a honourable fourth place. Due to an error on the scoreboard, failing to register four points for the Italian entry, many Swedish media sources claimed for many years that Alice had ended in third place, beating "Volare" by a margin of one point.

Alice Babs - Lilla stjärna (Sweden 1958)


  1. I have always thought that because Alice Babs was Alice Babs, Barbro Svensson (being younger) was called Lill Babs. Is there this kind of connection between these two wonderdul ladies?

    1. When I was little, I thought Babs was a family name and that they were related somehow, but they are not. Apparently, Alice got her stage name from a studio owner who thought she "looked like a Babs".

      I always thought Lill-Babs got her name from being very young and being named Barbro. Barbro = Babs (or Babsan) in the slang of those days.

      I can't recall Barbro ever mentioning that her choice of stage name would be influenced by Alice Babs, but I could be wrong.