Featuring Alice Babs

Swing-Godess of the North

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Swedish jazz singer and actress. She made her first recording in 1939, at 15 years old. At the same time, she heard Duke Ellington in Stockholm for the first time and was hooked. This made her basically a jazz singer although she made ”outings” in several other genres. Her debut as an actress in the movie ”Swing it Magistern” (Swing it, school-master) in 1945, was at the beginning considered to be a threat to good morale. There were Anti-Babs-associations formed all over Sweden and she was called a seducer of the young generation. Jazz music was still not accepted and should definitely not be sung by a young girl. Today practically all Swedes of all generations can sing the title song. During her professional life, she also sang pop, classic romances, and folk music although jazz was always there.

In 1949 she was part of the ”Paris orchestra”, a Swedish all-star jazz septet that sensationally won the first prize in the Paris International Festival of Jazz.

1958 she formed, together with the two Danes, violinist Svend Asmussen, and guitarist Ulrik Neumann, what became the hottest musical experience of the ’60s the “Swe-Danes.” Touring the US 1959-1960 with appearances on the Ed Sullivan show and lengthy performances at the Coconut Groove in Los Angeles. What especially made the success were the wordless songs, like The Swe-Danes Symphony and Scandinavian Shuffle.

In 1958 she was the first Swedish representative in the Eurovision Song Contest.

1963 she began to work with Duke Ellington who found in her a unique voice for which he specially composed his second and third Sacred Concerts. She performed several times with Ellington on TV and in concerts and on other occasions. Ellington said that when Alice Babs for some reason could not perform in the number he had written for her, he had to use three other singers to replace her.

Her voice ranged astounding 3,5 octaves, which made her Duke Ellington No 1 favorite singer. The New York Times reviewer called her a magnificent Ellington instrument, pristine, full-bodied with both warmth and body, in both ends of a wide range. Her ability to improvise and imitate various instruments with her voice was also very special.

She was appointed court singer by the Swedish King in 1972. An honor that was before only extended to opera singers. In 1974 she was elected a lifetime member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

For some 20 years, she retired on the southern coast of Spain due to repeated problems with bronchitis. During these years only the visitors to the Scandinavian church in Fuengirola had the possibility to hear her sing. But in 1998, at the age of 74, she made a successful come-back tour in Sweden and for some six years, she performed a couple of times every year. Still with her voice fully intact without any age-related vibrato. Strong and still very much in tune.

In 2012 she suffered a stroke which had consequences that finally led to her death on February 11th, 2014. (MATS WERNER)

Alice Babs is featured as a member of Swedish swing group “Swe-Danes”, with interview segments from her later years between performances.


Alice Babs, vocals
Svend Asmussen, violin & vocals
Ulrik Neumann, guitar & vocals


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