Birgit Magnusson was known as Rock-Olga by everyone in Sweden. She was Sweden’s first female rock-and-roll artist.
Birgit Magnusson was the eldest of four sisters. She was born on 16 March 1940 in Gävle, an important coastal town on the Baltic. Her parents were Britta and Brage Jacobsson. Birgit Magnusson attended elementary school and then secondary school. Her best subjects were singing and drawing and she started singing at an early age for the family and for Christmas parties at school. She also played the guitar, accordion and piano.
Her first public appearance was in a revue at Älvkarleby, a village south of Gävle, in 1954. Afterwards, Birgit Magnusson entered many singing competitions but never won. After taking her lower school certificate in 1957, she tried working as a hospital orderly, first in Gävle and later at Ulleråker hospital in Uppsala, where she also entertained the patients. In the summer of 1958, Birgit Magnusson toured with Olle Werner’s quartet, visiting various places in the country and appearing at an amateur competition for young people, Ungdom med ton, in Uppsala. The programme leader was Arthur Österwall, a youth leader who, according to certain sources, was the one to give the second prize-winner, Birgit Magnusson, the artiste name Rock-Olga. According to other sources, it was Topsy Lindblom at the Stockholm jazz palace Nalen who, after hearing the young singer perform her rock-and-roll had promised to launch her. He did not consider that the name Rock-Birgit had a good sound, but there was already a girl called Rock-Olga performing in Stockholm. However, she handed over the name to Birgit Magnusson.
It was Brage Johansson who contacted Topsy Lindblom. Birgit Magnusson had then won the local vocalist competition in the revue Flugan with “What You´ve Done to Me”. The revue, directed by Pekka Langer, performed in Gävle in 1958, and had a permanent ensemble with among others Lasse Lönndahl and Inger Berggren. At Nalen, Birgit Magnusson performed “Fat Mammy Brown” and her fee was 25 kronor. She was later allowed to test-sing with Carl-Henrik Norin’s Orchestra and sometimes also at the youth club Tonclub. Longer articles were written about her in local newspapers. In a rock competition in the radio programme Timmen Tumba, led by Sven Tumba, Birgit Magnusson was the ninth challenger, and in a later programme she came third. The revue Flugan also had a national vocalist competition with the finals in Stockholm and in this Birgit Magnusson came second, despite being the audience’s favourite.
In Gävle, where her parents’ home was for many years her fixed address, Birgit Magnusson was crowned as queen of rock. As her final success that eventful year of 1958, she had her great national break-through with the song “Stupid Cupid”. Sweden’s king of rock was to be crowned on Timmen Tumba. After the autumn heats, four candidates remained: Birgit Magnusson as Rock-Olga, Rock-Boris (Boris Lindqvist), Rock-Ragge (Ragnar Nygren) and Willy “King” Knarström. After the jury’s decision, Boris Lindqvist came second after competing with the reigning king Little Gerhard, who once again was the victor, and the others had to share third place.
Birgit Magnusson was engaged now and then at Nalen and when the film Let´s Rock had its première in Gävle, the city’s own rock singer warmed up the audience. In Timmen Tumba, it was time to crown Sweden’s rock queen, and after having been the victor with “Stupid Cupid”, Birgit Magnusson was crowned by Little Gerhard. That was when her father Brage Jacobsson started actively participating in her career and he registered her trademark Rock-Olga. On 7 March came notice of the fact that Håve Brage Jacobsson intended to practise “artistic and therewith similar enterprise under the company name Rock-Olga, Brage Jacobsson”. The same month came her record debut with My Dixieland Doll on Simon Brehm’s record label Karusell. This single was soon followed by two EP records, and a single was released in England on the record label Ember. In 1961, the interest for rock-and-roll began to cool down in Sweden and when Birgit Magnusson released her third single she sang in Swedish. “Gör vad du vill” and “Barnvaktsboogie” were the song titles. The year after she performed at the legendary Star Club in Hamburg.
In order to survive the apparent death of rock-and-roll music, Birgit Magnusson continued with her group The Skylarks and later became Pop-Olga. She worked extra as an excavator operator and cooperated with Bibbi Ander, who was Sweden’s first solo guitarist. They toured together with The Defenders but went their separate ways in 1965. After a folk park performance outside Gothenburg, Birgit Magnusson decided to stop singing in public. Rock music had lost its charm and she had lost her self-confidence.
Brage Jacobsson had always supported his daughter and now he tried to entice her to try something new. She trained as an overhead crane driver and left the course with the highest marks. After two years’ employment at Skutskärsverken, she got a new job at Siporex where lightweight concrete was produced. She became unemployed when the factory was closed and in 1968 she started an all-women’s quartet: Trio with Olga.
When her parents moved to Gothenburg, Birgit Magnusson soon followed. However, it was to a three-month period of unemployment and when she received an offer of a summer tour, she went out once again into the folk parks with her show Rock-and-Roll Circus. After that, the Eriksberg ship-building yard offered her a job as an overhead crane driver. At the beginning of the 1970s, she was contacted by Bertil Bertilsson who a few years previously had started Rockfolket and it is easy to imagine how her self-confidence returned. She hobby-toured with Little Elvis and Gauffins Dubbelblandning, she took part in Bosse Larsson’s TV programme Nygammalt in which she sang “Vårtan”. After that she was contacted by Benny Andersson. He had found the song funny and suggested an LP. It was called Rock-Olga Today and in the background sang Agnetha Fältskog and Annifrid Lyngstad, while Benny Andersson played the piano and the mixer was handled by Björn Ulvéus – four colleagues not yet known as ABBA. Despite the record, there were few offers of gigs and Birgit Magnusson therefore took a break in her music-making until 1975.
At a course in old-time dancing, Birgit Magnusson met Lars-Christer Magnusson who played the accordion. They fell for each other and she eventually became a singer and guitarist in his band. In 1976, they started the old-time dance band Hafvsbandet with Roger Tidqvist on accordion and Erik Trulsson on bass. When Swedish rock-and-roll celebrated its twentieth jubilee, the entire rock élite participated in Stockholm. In the TV programme Härifrån till 50-talet Birgit Magnusson sang duets with Rock-Ragge in “Tutti Frutti” and “What You´ve Done to Me”.
When Eriksberg closed its ship-building yard, Birgit Magnusson started working at Götaverken. In 1982, Birgit Magnusson was still working there but now as a cleaner, which gave her time to think of new melodies. On the 29 April 1983, she and Lars-Christer Magnusson were married. After that she started working as a home carer on Hisingen in Gothenburg, and continued performing with Hafvsbandet. The band participated in the first Swedish Championship in old-time dance music among other styles, where they placed second. The Magnussons bought a house in 1990 between Borås and Alingsås where there was also space for the tour bus. Before Hafvsbandet put their instruments on the shelf for good in 1996, it was once again time to set off on a rock tour. The gang spent the first night together with Little Gerhard, Rock-Ragge and Rock-Boris. In 2008, the fiftieth birthday of rock-and-roll was celebrated with a jubilee tour. The same gang participated except for Rock-Boris being replaced by Burken (Leif Björklund) who played rock on his accordion.
In the spring of 2010, Birgit Magnusson made a highly acclaimed appearance at Tyrol in Stockholm. She then had a temperature of 40 °C and a tiny sore on a toe which was causing blood-poisoning. Despite antibiotics and anaesthesia, pneumonia attacked her lungs. Birgit Magnusson died on 10 June 2010. Her ashes rest in the memorial garden at Lundby Old cemetery on Hisingen in Gothenburg.