A National Treasure

I noticed that a my post about the squirrel was getting a lot of hits. This made me think more about Alice Babs, who sings the squirrel-song in that clip. I don´t know if the younger generation knows much about her, but when I grew up, she was an institution, practically. National treasure and court singer, by special appointment to the King.

The first thing most people think about when they think of Alice Babs, is her break-through film and hit song, "Swing it, magistern" from 1940:

(put on youtube by frogpondium)

It´s pretty hard to imagine, but Babs was like the Ozzy Osborne of her day. "Swing it, magistern" - the lyrics go something like: swing it, mr teacher, it´s the song of our time, we don´t want the old nursery rhymes, we want be-bop, teacher, swing it! - was considered the devil´s music, designed to seduce the innocent young Swedes to sinful behaviour. Proper associations were formed dedicated to combat these new strange sounds and the debate was rather rancourus (if not outright racist; I don´t intend to spell it out) at times. I saw a documentary about her just a few years ago and she was still finding it hard to understand, she was still very emotional about it. It must have been horrible to experience for a girl just 16 years old. Before "Swing it", she was known as a yodeling girl, and 1939 she heard Duke Ellington for the first time, which hooked her on jazz.

The controversy didn´t stop her from singing whatever she liked, and in the 50´s she was part of trio Swe-Danes, with Danish musicians Svend Asmussen and Ulrich Neumann, which is mostly remembered for the Scandinavian Shuffle:

(on youtube by wasaexpress)

Babs´ voice had a range of three and a half octaves. This caught the attention of Duke Ellington, who wrote the second and third of his Sacred Concerts with her in mind:

(on youtube by roger b)

Directing the Swedish Radio Choir in this performance is the legendary Eric Ericson, by the way. There is more of them here.

All her career she also worked a lot with pianist Charlie Norman:

(at youtube by nostalogteket)

She was 75 at this performance. And despite having lived a whole life doing such sinful music, she led a scandal-free life; she married at 19, had three children (one of whom, Titti Sjöblom, is also a singer), and lived happily until she was widowed two years ago.

These days, sadly, she does not sing. She has been diagnosed with Alzheimers and is in a carehome, almost 90 years old. A real legend.

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