Lily Berglund was one of the most popular Swedish singers of the 1950s and into the 1960s.
Lily Berglund was born in Kvarnsvedan, Stora Tuna parish, in 1928. She was the youngest of four siblings, one of whom died in infancy. When she was a child she would accompany her mother to Pentecostal church meetings where she learned the so-called ‘läsarsång’ (readers’ songs). Alice Babs Sjöblom, however, provided a distinctly different influence when she became Lily Berglund’s first idol. Lily Berglund has described how this displeased her mother and her school teacher. Nevertheless, it was Lily Berglund’s school teacher who informed the local revue-group about her singing ability. This led to Lily Berglund, aged 11, making her debut as part of the Kvarnsveden new year revue show performed at Folkets Hus. She sang a few songs from Alice Babs’ repertoire.
Lily Berglund’s interest in music deepened. In 1943, aged only 15, she won a competition as the best jazz singer in Borlänge. The prize was an opportunity to sing with Union, which was the town’s best dance band. She remained the singer with this band for a year, and during this time she also performed in several revue shows. Her other jobs included being a trainee hairdresser, an assistant at a confectioner’s, and in a music shop.
In 1945 Lily Berglund experienced an important – but temporary, as time would show – obstacle on her road towards became a singer. Only 17 years old, Lily fell pregnant, got married – after having ‘written to the king’ (ie seeking royal dispensation as she was underage) – and in March 1946 she gave birth to her son Kenneth. The newlyweds lived on the top floor of their in-laws’ home. Lily Berglund still longed to be on the stage and to sing, and her desire for this only grew stronger. Somewhat unusually it was her mother-in-law Sigrid Hagberg who actually helped Lily Berglund to kickstart her career. She inspired Lily Berglund to leave her marital existence behind in 1949 and move to Gothenburg in order to sing with Gösta Haag’s band from Ludvika, leaving her son in the care of Sigrid Hagberg. During the summer of 1950 Lily Berglund (following her divorce that year she returned to using her maiden name) sang with Sam Samson’s band which was performing in Tylösand near Halmstad at that time.
In the autumn of 1950 Lily Berglund moved to Stockholm. Initially she was employed as a so-called ‘refrängsångerska’ (female chorus singer) for Emil Irwing’s well-known band. She released her first record in the spring of 1951. She and Stig Rehnberg sang ‘Lite, lite solsken’ to accompaniment by Sam Samson. Shortly thereafter she made her radio debut together with Emil Irwing, and later she sang with Charlie Norman and Thore Swanerud. She released her second record a year after her first one. She was to do an audition with the Sonora record company, singing ‘Lilla hemlighet’, accompanied by Emil Irwing’s band. The record company was very pleased with the result and what was meant to be a trial run became an actual recording. At this time Lily Berglund was performing as the singer with several dance bands. In 1953 she was invited to sing in Thore Ehrling’s big band and she accepted this invitation happily. The pianist in the band was Göte Wilhelmson and a relationship developed between him and Lily Berglund. When he set up his own band in 1954 Lily Berglund went with him. The two of them got married in the late autumn of 1956 and the following spring their daughter Pia was born, followed five years later by their son Christer.
Both of Lily Berglund’s first two records were favourably received and set the pace for what led to a series of successful recordings through the rest of the 1950s. In 1952 she released ‘Vildandens sång’, but Thory Bernhards’ version outsold hers. She had better success with ‘Valpen i fönstret’, from 1953, even surpassing Alice Babs in popularity. During this year Lily Berglund transferred to the newly established record company Karusell, where Simon Brehm became the boss. His band accompanied Lily Berglund in ‘Vaya Con Dios’ in 1953 and in ‘Uppå källarbacken’ (originally American Patrol) in 1954. When she recorded ‘Vildrosen’ that year the music was arranged by Dick Harris. Afterwards it was her husband and bandleader Göte Wilhelmson who was responsible for the musical arrangements on Lily Berglund’s records, as seen on ‘Lycko-Per’ from 1956 and four recordings from 1957, namely ‘Jorden runt’ (originally Around the world), ‘Kärlek, nål och tråd’, ‘Bär du solsken i ditt sinne’, as well as her biggest hit ‘Vita syrener’. She sold almost 70,000 copies of this record, for which Lisbeth Stahl had supplied a Swedish text for the German original of ‘Weisser Holunder’ from the eponymous film.
After 1958 all recordings were made on vinyl. Lily released a vinyl record in 1959 called ‘Så kom våren till Tarina’. It was a much-noted duet with the crooner Sven-Olof Sandberg, and the tune had been plucked from the Norwegian charts. That same year she recorded a Swedish-language version of Kathy Linden’s international mega-hit ‘Goodbye Jimmy Goodbye’. Both of these records achieved reasonable positions on various sales charts. During that year Lily Berglund had played a prominent role for a while in Hassåtage’s first revue-musical called Doktor Kotte slår till eller Siv Olson. One of the numbers she sang was ‘Jag har ju ingenting att ta på mig’. The most frequently listened to tunes that she recorded during 1960 was likely ‘Fröken Johansson och jag’, a comical song about a confidence trickster written by Thore Skogman. In 1961 she hit the top spot in Radio Nord’s chart De Tio with the record ‘Förlåt att det handlar om tårar’, whilst the B-side ‘Sånt går inte an i våra da’r’ also entered this chart. Lily Berglund made the Svensktoppen in the autumn of 1962, just as that programme got started, with her Swedish version of the Italian big-seller ‘Quando, quando, quando’. That same year she could be heard on the radio at various times singing ‘Sommar’n med dej’. Songs performed by her were twice voted onto Svensktoppen but both times they only remained in the chart for a brief period.
Lily Berglund appeared three times in the ‘Melodifestival’ (annual music competition). The first time was in 1961 when she jumped in at short notice because Inger Berggren had developed tonsillitis the night before the final. There were five competing songs and each had to be sung twice by different artists accompanied by two different bands. The 12-person jury chose ‘April, april’ as the winner. Lily Berglund had sung ‘Spela på regnbågen’, which got to number 2, and ‘Stockholm, which came in last place. Lily Berglund’s second appearance at the Melodifestival was in 1962. That year six songs were in competition and, like before, each had to be sung by two different artists and with two different bands. The results were determined by radio and tv audiences who sent their votes in by mail. The overwhelming winner was ‘Sol och vår’ sung by Inger Berggren and Lily Berglund. For some reason it was Inger Berggren who represented Sweden in Luxemburg, and she achieved 7th place. Both singers achieved good record sales. Lily Berglund also competed in 1963, when a jury was tasked with choosing a winner from 12 entries. Only the top three rankings were made public. The winner was ‘En gång i Stockholm’ sung by Monica Zetterlund and Carli Tornehave. Lily Berglund performed ‘Rosen och vinden’ and ‘Sen igår är vi kära’, but neither of these ranked in the top 3. Monica Zetterlund did not get a single point during the final competition held in London.
In the early 1960s Lily Berglund reduced her Swedish tours and then completely stopped by the mid-1960s. One of the reasons for this was probably the so-called death of amusement parks which reduced the number of gigs available, whilst another reason was likely increased competition for available gigs from the latest popstars. A third reason was Lily Berglund’s two children who demanded more family time. Her husband Göte Wilhelmson disbanded his band in 1964. His work as master recorder for the Karusell record company, and later for Philips, kept him fully occupied at home. It can be said that it was he who ‘discovered’ both Sven-Ingvars and Cool Candys.
Lily Berglund undertook several musical visits abroad. The first was to West Germany in 1954 during which she performed a number of times on the radio and even sang in front of American officers. In 1956 she undertook a six-week long tour of the Soviet Union, visiting a lot of places. At one point she sang before 50,000 people in Moscow. During the second half of the 1960s, when she had stopped touring in Sweden, she did several tours in Europe. She visited both West and East Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Romania. In Vienna she performed both on the radio and on tv, whilst in Bucharest she participated in an international song competition. At various times she also made guest appearances throughout the Nordic countries.
One of the radio programmes which contributed to safeguarding and increasing Lily Berglund’s popularity was Refrängen, produced by Hasse Tellemar. She began singing old catchy tunes for the show in 1957 together with the singer and actor Per Lindqvist, as well as the group Gastarna, and later also Papegojorna. The programme had a sizable audience and the EPs of ‘Sjung med Lily och Per’ which were released in 1959 sold very well. The Berglund-Lindqvist duo maintained their collaborative work for about a decade. During the 1960s they recorded several LPs which became widely distributed and laid the basis for re-release during the 1970s.
Lily Berglund appeared in two films. The first was a comedy entitled Flyg-Bom, from 1952, starring Nils Poppe in the leading role. The second was Het är min längtan, from 1955, which was a drama based on love intrigues, and starred Margit Carlqvist and Alf Kjellin. Lily Berglund only had small parts in each film, both times appearing as a singer.
Lily Berglund continued to perform and make records late on in life. In 1973 she made an LP with the spiritual singer Jan Sparring, entitled ‘Jubla nu mitt sälla hjärta’. She released another notable LP in 1980, called ‘Jag har en liten melodi’. It contained both well-known and lesser-known songs by Kai Gullmar, one of the major composers within the world of popular music. This record was released by the Good Will record company, which had just been set up by the Berglund-Wilhelmson couple. When Lily Berglund celebrated her 50th year as a singer in the year 2000 she was honoured by the release of a compilation CD entitled ‘Musik vi minns’. Throughout her lengthy career she recorded about 550 tunes.
Lily Berglund suffered a stroke in the summer of 2003 which robbed her not only of her ability to speak but also to sing. She eventually regained her ability to talk and she found herself speaking in the Dalarna dialect, which she had previously been forced to suppress in order to sing without an accent. Although she never regained her singing voice she did not complain. As she said in an interview before her 80th birthday, she had sung so much over the preceding years that she had had enough of it. The older she got, the more she wanted to spend time with her family in her parental home of Lergärdet in Kvarnsveden.
Lily Berglund died in 2010. She is buried at the Norra Griftegård in Kvarnsveden.