Barbro Hörberg was one of the first Swedish female singer-songwriters who also wrote her own lyrics. She was an innovator of Swedish music during the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when the music scene was dominated by male troubadours and songwriters.
Barbro Hörberg was born in Gothenburg in 1932. She was the eldest of four children. Her education included attending the Kjellberg girls’ school in Gothenburg. During the 1950s and 1960s she worked as a troubadour, actor and showgirl. She collaborated with Lasse Dahlquist, Povel Ramel and Owe Thörnqvist. She also helped set up the literary theatre cabaret at Ulla Winbladh in Stockholm in 1959, along with Lars Forssell, Olle Adolphson, Beppe Wolgers, Pär Rådström, Svenerik Perzon, Monica Nielsen and Gunvor Pontén.
Barbro Hörberg’s songs were heavily influenced by jazz, classical music, folk music and French chanson. She had also spent two periods of her life living in France. It was in the late 1960s, while she was living in Paris with her second husband, the artist Jan Stenvinkel, that she discovered the French singer Monique Serf, who became famous as Barbara. Barbara was important for Barbro Hörberg’s solo career, not just as a role model and creative inspiration given that the Frenchwoman wrote and performed her own songs, but also because she sang about ordinary feelings from a feminine perspective. Barbro Hörberg felt that there was a need for a Barbara in Sweden. Although Olle Adolphson and Cornelis Wreesvijk were “excellent lyricists” there was still a gap in the genre, the feminine experience was missing. “There are so many Swedish men currently producing lovely, perceptive and important songs. But how about a woman singing about women? I would love to fill that gap. This girl has hubris”, Barbro Hörberg wrote in a letter from Paris.
Barbro Hörberg’s first song lyrics were released on solo records using tunes written by Barbara. She soon began to compose music herself, but also collaborated with other composers, including Adophson and Falk, Bengt Hallberg, Georg Riedel and Lars Berghagen. She was a pioneer as a lyricist in that she wrote about subjects which did not usually get an airing in Swedish music texts. She wrote about ordinary women, their longings and experiences, often with a direct and everyday appeal, yet still unique. The lyrics can be found on the following records Med ögon känsliga för grönt, 1973, Gamla älskade barn, 1974, and Gråt i gräset 1975. Barbro Hörberg released a total of six albums, three of which were aimed at children: Barbro och Sovdjuret, 1969, Musik rätt och snett, 1970, and Rim, ramsor och fabler, 1976. She was also a pioneer of children’s music. She was a major figure in the 1960s children’s culture which sought a more democratic approach to music teaching and access to music than the traditional route, and she believed the latter had hampered her own generation. One of her favourite lines was: “Everyone can play [music]. You just have to kick your preconceptions into the tall grass and get started.”
During the 1970s Barbro Hörberg was a frequent participant in debates on Swedish children’s culture. In 1973 she released an educational text on teaching music called Så kan du låta – för små och stora barn om att leta, leka, lära i ljudvärlden. She also went on a national tour of schools with a performance entitled Musik rätt och snett. The performing ensemble included several of the most eminent Swedish jazz musicians, such as the bassist Georg Riedel and the drummer Egil Johansen. During the 1960s and 1970s she often appeared on TV and radio programmes, and was the anchorwoman of Det ska vi fira in 1973. She also wrote lyrics for other artists, including Barbro ‘Lill-Babs’ Svensson and Agnetha Fältskog.
Barbro Hörberg died of cancer in the spring of 1976, only 43 years old. She is buried at the Östra cemetery in Gothenburg and has had a street in Örgryte and a tram named after her.