Monica Zetterlund in memoriam


Monica Zetterlund (September 9th 1937 – May 12th 2005) was a famous Swedish jazz singer and actress. Yesterday evening I went to the movie theatre and saw a dramatized version of the first part of her career on and off stage. The movie “Monica Z – A lingonberry twig in a cocktail glass” had its sneak opening on August 10th on Way Out West, but for real on September 13th this year. It has already become the most seen movie this Autumn here in Sweden. It is directed by Per Fly and with a manuscript by Peter Birro. The leading part as Monica Zetterlund is played by the young singer Edda Magnason in the photo above. She not only very much resembles Monica Zetterlund in her looks, but also in her voice when she speaks and when she sings. In recent years it has become a trend to make movies about either still living or recently deceased famous people. Movies about Princess Diana or Grace Kelly, Che Gue Vara or Malcolm X to take just a few examples from the Anglo-Saxon and Hispanic world. The trend exists here in Scandinavia too. In 2010 we could see the movie “Cornelis” about the troubadour Cornelis Vreeswijk (1937 – 1987), the Dutch who came to Sweden at the age of 13, and as a young man began his career as a performing artist in the 1960’s. In Denmark last year came the film “Dirch” about the Danish comedian Dirch Passer (1928 – 1980). That movie too focus on his career from the late 1950’s until his death in 1980.

Monica Zetterlund was a performing artist for a long time, but the movie focus on the years 1959 – 1974, but the manuscript writers have taken some liberties in cronology of certain events in Monica’s life, and her only child Eva-Lena is a small girl at about ten all through the movie. Monica was married three times. The first marriage was with Torbjörn Zetterlund whom she had Eva-Lena with. She was only 18 when they got married in 1955 and it lasted for three years. Her second husband, the bass player Lasse Petersson 1964-1966 is not even mentioned or shown specifically in the movie. Her third husband, the bass player Sture Åkerberg, 1974-1983, has an important role in this film. They knew each other for years and had an affectionate, but troubled long distance love before they got married. The movie ends with their marriage in 1974. In December 1962 she met the movie director and script writer Vilgot Sjöman, and very quickly they became lovers, and moved into a big villa. Vilgot couldn’t cope with her wild life and her constant alcohol drinking however and moved out already in March 1963. Between 1967 and 1971 Monica Zetterlund had a relationship with Steve Kuhn. 1985 – until her death in 2005 she lived together with Magnus Roger.

In the film we get the impression that Monica had a very harsh and troubled relationship to her father Bengt. He is in the film portrayed by Kjell Bergqvist as constantly against Monica’s artist ambitions, ambitions at all, and angry because Monica always leaves her daughter alone or with her own parents. They more or less fostered and took care of  their grand daughter. Tom Alandh, movie reviewer who knew the family well has protested of that portrayal and said that Bengt was much more loving and supportive in reality, even if they had their family skirmishes. He added: “If she (Monica) had been alive today she would have been first in agony, then very angry. And then you would have suffered her fury”…”There was so much respect and tenderness in her relationship to her parents. I felt very strongly that her parents were important in Monica’s life.”. Her artist friend Monica Dominique has said about Bengt Nilsson: “He was absolutely a very loving father, but a bit sulky as fathers were mostly”…”She always called home and told them both good and bad things”. In the research work before the movie the manuscript writers didn’t talk to Monica’s six year older sister Margareta Nilsson, but in most parts the movie has become successfull all the same.


Monica Zetterlund grew up in Hagfors as daughter of painter and musician Bengt Nilsson and his wife Margareta. When Monica was a child she injured her back and came to suffer from scoliosis all through her life, an illness which grew with time and at the end of her life she had to sit in a wheel chair. After lower-secondary school graduation Monica began working for Hagfors Järnverk and then as telephone connecting assistant for Televerket. She also began singing in her father’s band when she was 15 years old. In 1958 she at the age of 21 came to the music palace Nalen in Stockholm where she performed. There she was discovered both by Swedish and American artists and she performed both in Stockholm and New York. She used to play with Arne Domnérus and his orchestra here in Sweden, and she made a first attempt to get an American break-through in 1960 when she was invited to play with Thad Jones and Zoot Sims. But the white American audience couldn’t accept a white female singer performing with Afro-Americans. Ella Fitzgerald neither accepted Monica’s performance of “black music”, and gave Monica the advice to sing in Swedish instead and things taken from her own life. That attempt to break through in the US is shown in the beginning of the movie and both the blunt racism from the American audience and the words from Ella Fitzgerald, (in the film played by Amelia Fowler), hurt Monica but also influenced her. She nevertheless made an LP in the States with Thad Jones and Zoot Sims in 1960 which was released as late as 1996. Edda Magnason portrays Monica very well as I can gather, and the various complex aspects of her personality. We see the ordinary Monica, her ambition, her egocentrism, her bad conscience towards but also love for her daughter. We see her affections, her troubled love affairs, her growing alcoholism and biased attitude to the stage and audience.

In 1961 Sture Åkerberg who later would become her third husband introduced Monica to the poet, artist and writer Beppe Wolgers. Monica began singing jazz in Swedish to Beppe Wolgers’ poems and other lyrics, and he loved it. He also wrote the Swedish lyrics to “Sakta vi går genom stan”/Slowly we walk through town”,   (originally “Walking my Baby Back Home” by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk). In December 1962 she met Vilgot Sjöman. In the film they meet first at a party, but in reality they both were involved in the same film project. She at the time also was singing at the jazz club Gyllene Cirkeln/The Golden Circle. Vilgot and Monica were instantly attracted to each other and quickly had a love affair. When he met Monica’s parents in Hagfors Monica’s father and sister didn’t really like Vilgot, while her mother did. He was polite and mature. In the beginning of 1963 Monica bought a large villa on Oskarsvägen, Lidingö, Stockholm which she kept until 1972. They both moved in, but Vilgot wanted a calm life, while Monica was a wild social being. After several quarrels but a passionate brief love story Vilgot moved out. In 1969 Vilgot Sjöman had made a theatre play called “Pojken i sängen”/The boy in the bed” showing a couple breaking apart called Anders and Silla. That play was based on his relationship with Monica Zetterlund. She saw one of the last shows and recognised it immediately. Her own alter ego in the play Silla was however portrayed as a drug addict too, which Monika never was and resented a lot.

1961-1965 Monica Zetterlund was working a lot with Beppe Wolgers, with Arne Domnérus, Povel Ramel, Georg Riedel and not the least Tage Danielsson and Hasse Alfredsson. Hasse and Tage were prominent comedians, film makers, book writers, revue makers and artists during mainly the 1960’s and 1970’s, and Monica became an appreciated artist in their team. Hasse and Tage started the company Svenska Ord/Swedish Words and through the years made many productions. Especially Tage Danielsson and his amiable personality became important for Monica. He supported her a lot, also in her down periods. In the film he’s played by Jörgen Thorsson. In 1967 Tage wrote the poem Det Eviga/The Eternal about Monica. He described in that poem Monica Zetterlund as “A night club queen smelling of barns. A lingonberry twig put in a cocktail glass. A blond Negress from the lady siren visited forests of the county Värmland”.  When Tage Danielsson died from an illness in 1985 he recieved a state burial, because of his popular status in the Swedish heart. Monica then was devestated from grief.

Monica Zetterlund performed in the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest in 1962, 1963 and 1972. In 1963 she won the Swedish competition but recieved  zero points in the international competition with the song “En gång i Stockholm”/Once upon a time in Stockholm. The newspapers were condemning her, and Monica sad for her loss. However in 1964 she recieved a new American invitation and went performing in the USA with Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan and Miles Davis. In the movie portrayed by Randal D Ingram, Clinton Ingram and Rob Morgan. Now she was accepted and she sang her own jazz tunes in Swedish too. All through the movie we can see Monica’s long distance affection to her husband to be Sture Åkerberg, played by Sverrir Gudnasson. When she’s singing in the USA and it’s broadcasted also for Swedes to hear it, she dedicated one song to Sture, which made his fiancée at the time jealous and furious. Monica also co-operated in the USA with Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz and Quincy Jones, but her closest co-operation was to Bill Evans. Her last album from the year 2000 was called “Bill remembered – A tribute to Bill Evans”.

Monica Zetterlund was born the same year as my mother and I remember Monica from my childhood and early teen-age years mainly. For my parent generation she was mostly a jazz singer, but also a comedienne and actress. I remember her mostly for those later things, as a revue artist and film actress. She performed as singer and comedienne in Hasse and Tage’s stage shows from Gröna Hund in 1962 to Svea Hund på Göta Lejon in 1976. She made small and larger roles as a movie actress, “Att angöra en brygga” /”To chast anchor” from 1965, “Äppelkriget”/”The Apple War” from 1971, the role as the loving and wise maid Malin in TV’s “Söderkåkar”/”South Side Houses” from 1970. She also that year played the part as the former prostitute Ulrika in the filmatization of Vilhelm Moberg’s (not a relative of mine) big epos “The Emigrants” and “The Immigrants” about Swedes who were leaving Sweden for the USA in the late 19th century. She recieved a prize for that role. In 1979 Monica Zetterlund played the step-mother of the Romany girl Katitzi in the TV-series with the same name, after Katarina Taikon’s auto-biographies for children and teen-agers. In 1993 she acted in “Morsarvet”/The Mother Inheritance” for Swedish television. Beppe Wolgers who wrote texts for her in the early and middle 1960’s also made lots of things for children. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he made the Swedish voice to the bear Baloo in Disney’s “The Jungle Book”, child programs like “Beppes godnattstund”/”Beppe’s good night hour” where he was laying in a large bed with dolls around him. He also made a mixed cartoon and live acting film called “Dunderklumpen” about a mysterious charachter who kidnapps his small daughter’s teddy bears and dolls and their chase after. Beppe also would die too early in the 1980’s, but Monica lived on.

As the years went by Monica Zetterlund suffered more and more from her scoliosis and had difficulties to move properly. On May 12th 2005 Monica had been visited by her old friend Doris Stråhlman who stayed with Monika to the beginning of the evening. She also helped her friend to bed. Then something happened. Monika must have been smoking in bed, dropped the cigarette and the bed took fire. She managed to send a desperate call, but she died in the flames. When Doris came back the next day she was met by police officers outside the apartment. Monica Zetterlund died a horrible death, but she was a great artist, and she will be remembered as such, and of course remembered in love by those who knew her well and appreciated her. Tage Danielsson’s co-companion Hans “Hasse” Alfredsson still remembers his old mates, Tage Danielsson, Gösta Ekman, Beppe Wolgers, Povel Ramel and Monica Zetterlund. When I left the movie theatre yesterday evening I recalled some of my own memories of Monica Zetterlund, the marvellous identification by Edda Magnason, and my own beloved family. The movie Monica Z is worth seeing.  It’s well made and good handicraft with good actors and actresses. If you haven’t seen it yet, why not do it? Here on this link I add a small clip from the movie for you to enjoy: “Monica Z”

Anders Moberg, November 9th 2013

2 thoughts on “Monica Zetterlund in memoriam

  1. Saw the film Monica Z last night at the Deck Chair Darwin Film Festival – and felt it was wonderfully done – we were quite emotional afterwards and I was grateful for the introduction to the pianist Bill Evans of whom I had not heard. Thank you

  2. Loved the movie which I saw on tv yesterday. Her singing was amazing. Thx for writing her biography. In the movie it seems as if she writes her own songs. Was that the case? Sorry to hear that she divorced Sture. What happened and I guess they didn’t have children? It was funny that her daughter never aged in the 15 years of the movie. I’m glad that her father was more loving and supportive than portrayed and sad about her terrible death.

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