Thory Bernhards was the most popular Swedish singer of the late 1940s until the early 1960s.
Thory Bernhards, whose original name was Tora Berglind, was born in Örebro in 1920. She chose her artist’s name in honour of her father, Bernhard. Her talent for singing, dancing and acting was evident from early childhood onwards. She would create outfits from crepe paper and put on shows for the family. One of her earliest public performances occurred at a meeting of the Salvation Army where she, entirely on her own initiative, sang about Axel Öhman, a seaman. She had inherited her talent for singing from her mother who was a member of the church choir and had at one point in her youth studied with David Björling – the father of the famous opera singer Jussi Björling.
When Thory Bernhards had completed her schooling she began to work at a shoe-factory. She spent her free time working on her musical and artistic talents with a group of similarly-minded friends. Thory Bernhards was ‘discovered’ when this group put on a cabaret show in 1939. An individual named Eric Berg was in the audience. He was the leader of a band called Hulakvartetten which played Hawaiian music. Eric Berg was about to expand his band by introducing a female trio. Thory Bernhards accepted his invitation to join his band. The new version of band made their debut on Valborgsmässoafton in 1940 in Kisa, southern Östergötland. It was cold and the audience were dressed for winter. Accord to Thory Bernhards’ accounts the three ladies on the stage appeared in grass skirts and brassieres, singing, dancing and playing ukuleles. They benefited from better weather for the rest of the summer tour.
Of definitive importance to Thory Bernhards’ future was her appearance in an amateur competition held on the occasion of a new year revue show in 1941. Band leader Leon Landgren was present and he immediately took a shine to ‘the lovely apparition with sparkling eyes and equally sparkling vocal talent’, as is noted in an account from 1950. Thory Bernhards was hired as a vocalist for his dance- and show-band, which mainly performed jazz. She revealed a great ability for jazz and the trade journal Estrad voted her the best jazz singer in both 1943 and 1944. She could play several instruments, including the trumpet, saxophone and guitar. She had already released her first album in 1941. Thory Bernhards initially made two ‘test’ records for the Din Egen Röst label, whose boss, Dagmar Sandström, sent them on to the Polydor record company. The Polydor boss liked the ‘test’ recordings in turn and in September 1941 Thory Bernhards was invited to record the famous American jazztune ‘Stormy Weather’ as the A-side, accompanied by Sam Samson’s band. Sam Samson, who was a well-known band leader, hired Thory Bernhards to sing with his band for a time, which was then playing at the well-reputed Salle de Paris in Stockholm. Thory Bernhards also made her radio debut with Sam Samson’s band in 1942. She made several recordings during 1941 and 1942, but during the following five years she only made a couple.
Thory Bernhards toured with Leon Landgren until the end of the summer of 1948. Afterwards her own name took prime position on the posters. Life as the member of a touring dance-band in the 1940s – particularly during the wartime years – was no life of luxury and sometimes it was necessary to take on extra work in order to make a living. During the latter years of the 1940s Thory Bernhards changed her profile. She now became a ‘schlager’ (popular music) singer, and remained as such for the rest of her life. The first, and very successful, example of this change was her 1949 recording of ‘Nidälven’ (originally a Norwegian tune), with Nils Weingard. The record sold almost 70,000 copies. This was also the year that Thory Bernhards and Leon Landgren got married.
The 1950s saw a series of major successes for Thory Bernhards’ records – the first half of the decade was still dominated by 78 rpms. Thory Bernhards became the most popular singer in Sweden and each year she delivered a best-seller, and sometimes more than one. The following lists some of her catchiest tunes.
In 1951 she recorded ‘Ole Lukkeöie’ in the literary image of the Dane H. C. Andersen. She had greater success in 1952 (although it is often misreported as 1951) with ‘Vildandens sång’, written and arranged by Leon Landgren. It apparently sold 200,000 copies. Her 1953 hit was ‘En sliten grimma’. In 1954 she released both ‘Famnen full utav solsken’ and ‘Mjölnarens Irene’, of which the latter was the result of collaboration between Leon Landgren and Åke Gerhard. This was also true of the melody for ‘Ann-Caroline’ which Thory Bernhards recorded in 1955. The next year Thory Bernhards had a massive hit with ‘Fiskarflickans sång’ which had initially been performed on Sigge Fürst’s radio programme Frukostklubben. In 1957 Thory Bernhards had a similar hit with ‘Flickan, jägaren och priset’, for which Leon Landgren was responsible for both the music and the text. It has been said that the record companies which Thory Bernhards worked with – mainly Philips but also Metronome and Polydor – had great difficulty in printing the required number of albums to meet demand.
During the last years of the 1950s Thory Bernhards’ popularity diminished with regard to record sales, and this was apparently due to the breakthrough of rock and roll, providing record buyers with a new target. It did not take long before Thory Bernhards returned to figure amongst the favourites however. Her recording of ‘Sjöman’ in 1960, originally a German tune, became a top-seller at a time when vinyl became king. She topped the Radio Nord chart list in 1961 with Stikkan Anderson’s tune ‘Jag längtar hem’. She had similar success that year with the song ‘En gång ska vi åter mötas’. The next year Thory Bernhards released what became another best-seller in ‘I min egen lilla värld av blommor’ – a few changes had been made to the title when compared with the film tune in Rännstensungar from 1944. Thory Bernhards’ last significant hit was ‘Farmareflickan’ in 1963, in which she was accompanied by John ‘Jo-Jo’ Johansson, who had become her life-partner since the mid-1950s. In 1961 she was awarded a diamond record in recognition of having sold more than 1,000,000 copies of her records. In December 1962 Thory Bernhards also featured on Svensktoppen, which had only begun in October that year, with her song ‘Gondoli gondola’. The following year she was voted onto that same chart list twice with ‘Tindra vackra stjärna’ and ‘I min egen lilla värld av blommor’.
Thory Bernhards’ popularity declined incrementally during the 1960s. She faced serious competition from pop music which was increasingly attracting the younger audience. Further the requirements of her family life in a village in the Sala region, with three young children, placed demands on her time and energy. As well as performing throughout the country Thory Bernhards decided to focus on gigs in pubs, mainly in Gothenburg where she and her family had moved in the late 1960s. She toured several times with other well-known artists like Harry Brandelius, Eric Öst, Ebbe Jularbo, Bertil Boo and her partner ‘Jo-Jo’ Johansson under the name of the ‘Good old Gubbs med Thory’. They would often perform in churches and at pensioners’ gatherings. She also undertook many tours on her own, albeit always accompanied by her partner. She would perform in hospitals, serviced homes, and for all kinds of associations. She often appeared on tv during both the 1980s and the 1990s, including on programmes like Allsång på Skansen, Café Norrköping, Nygammalt as well as several dance-band shows. She similarly often appeared on the radio. In the year 2000, at the age of 80, Thory Bernhards made several appearances in the USA.
Thory Bernhards continued recording through the 1960 and 1970s, albeit to a diminished degree. She recorded a few new songs but in the main she recorded compilation albums and re-recorded old material. In 1989 a compilation album was released called ‘Kärlek genom åren’ on which Thory Bernhards sang several duets with the ‘dance-band king’ Christer Sjögren, such as ‘Vaya con dios’. IN 1994 she released another album like that, called ‘På begäran’, which included new versions of old favourites like ‘Nidälven’, and ‘Ann-Caroline’. Several of the melodies on these albums were already included in collections called ‘Thory Bernhards visor’ from 1950 and 1951. Her last big hit dates from 1995 and revolved around the film Bert (the tv-version was re-named Bert – den siste oskulden) in which Thory Bernhards sang the main track ‘Kom ta min hand’, written by Michael B. Tretow. The film was seen by more than 400,000 cinema-goers.
Thory Bernhards made nearly 250 recordings, of which more than half were released as 78 rpms. About 50 of her songs have been recorded on CD.
Thory Bernhards’ marriage to Leon Landgren began in 1949, and that year they had a son called Leon, who was nicknamed ‘Lille-Leon’. They divorced in 1957, although they had already separated in 1955 when Thory Bernhards had fallen pregnant after a temporary fling with Åke Gerhard, a friend of her husband’s. In 1956 she gave birth to her second son, named Thorgny. Both boys stayed with Leon Landgren when the marriage ended, and were looked after by a nanny whom Leon later married. From 1955 Thory Bernhards began living with the musician ‘Jo-Jo’ Johansson. They had two sons together, John and Frank, and a daughter named Jeanette. ‘Jo-Jo’ died in 1996, after which Thory Bernhards moved to Helsingborg to be closer to her older children. After she suffered a stroke she moved into a senior home. She died in Helsingborg following a heart attack in 2014.