Hillevi Stenhammar was a singer of popular ballads and a revue artist, known among other things for her participation in several of Karl Gerhard’s revues.
Hillevi Stenhammar was born in 1899 in Budskär south of Gothenburg, where the family had their summer residence. Her mother was the artist Helga Westerberg and her father was the pianist and composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, conductor of the Gothenburg orchestra in 1907—1922. One of her brothers, Claes Göran, was an opera singer, voice teacher and church organist. The other brother, Ove, was a merchant and for a time the chairman of the board of the City Theatre. Their mother Helga had been well on her way to becoming a recognised artist when she met her husband-to-be. However, she chose to devote her powers to supporting Wilhelm, being a good wife and an active mother for the three children.
Hillevi Stenhammar recounts in her book Sverige, Vals ombord och jag one problem with having such a famous and musical father: “One summer, Papa had the idea that he was going to teach me to play, but he had no patience with a beginner, he was despondent over my stupidity and I cried. I remember how I gradually rhythmically snivelled forth Schumann’s ’Fröhlicher Landtmann’. But that is actually the only piece of music I ever really learnt to play faultlessly.”
The children were to have music lessons but when they practised, they noticed how their father suffered even though he did not say anything. That led to their giving up their practising. Hillevi Stenhammar felt that they had a wonderful father anyway, who was happy to join in their games, but not when he “had his head full of notes that had to be committed to paper”. Her older brother travelled to Uppsala to study law and came home after his first term having then taught himself “to play the piano charmingly”.
Hillevi Stenhammar aimed originally to become a gymnastics teacher, but her theatre interest took over. She was accepted by the three-year Lorensberg Theatre dramatic school in 1920. Her first role was to play an older, dumb lady, but then she was given several boy’s roles. In the autumn of 1925, she was engaged to play the role of a boy in Styrman Karlssons flammor. There she sang for the first time the song “Vals ombord” by Evert Taube. One evening, Karl Gerhard sat in the audience, and after having seen her performance, he immediately offered her a job in his New Year Revue in 1926. Hillevi Stenhammar was to participate in several of his revues after that, and sang among other things “Titta in i min lilla kajuta” to a melody by Jules Sylvain, always dressed as a sailor boy in long wide trousers and a woollen jersey. One critic wrote that it was “refreshing to see and hear a cultivated imp on the stage”.
In 1926, Hillevi Stenhammar married Rolf Lindhé, a bank clerk, and the year after, their son Jan was born. After that, her cooperation with Karl Gerhard became more sporadic. “I felt I should be at home, when I had a husband and child”, she said. Instead, she appeared more and more often as a ballad singer. Her repertoire included Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s “songes”, songs by her father and numerous songs by Evert Taube. During the second world war, she toured the Swedish military camps. In the border areas in Värmland, she applied for and was granted special permission to visit the folk parks near the Norwegian border, among others those in Ed and Järnskog parishes. She also made a total of 17 gramophone recordings, participated in the film Vi Masthuggspojkar in 1940, and participated in several radio programmes. In 1978, when she was 79 years old, she performed a number of Taube songs on the big stage at the Liseberg amusement park.
Hillevi Stenhammar died in 1985 at 86 years of age in Tranemo, and her ashes were strewn in the same lake as those of her father. At her death, the theatre man Uno “Myggan” Ericson called her “Visans Varaktiga Vänliga Väninna”, meaning that she was the eternal friend of the ballad and singing.