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Alice Babs, Who Sang with Duke Ellington, Dies at 90

Swedish star appeared at Ellington's 1960s Sacred Concerts

Alice Babs

Alice Babs, a Swedish vocalist who sang with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the 1960s, and was particularly acclaimed for her contributions to the composer’s Sacred Concerts, died Feb. 11 in Stockholm from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. Babs was 90.

Revered in her homeland as its first entrant into the annual Eurovision Song Contest, Babs was born Hildur Alice Nilsson on January 26, 1924 in Västervik, Sweden. She sang as a child and gravitated toward jazz, getting her break when she appeared in a 1940 Swedish film, Swing it, Magistern. She ultimately appeared in more than 20 films.

The Eurovision appearance in 1958 gave Babs a heightened presence on the European continent. She finished in fourth place and then started a band, the Swe-Danes, with Danish musicians Svend Asmussen and Ulrik Neuman. The trio gained enough recognition to earn a U.S. tour and an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Babs first performed with Ellington in Europe in 1963 and five years later sang with Ellington during his first Sacred Concert in New York.

Her popularity continued unabated in Sweden until her death. In 1972 Babs became the first non-opera singer to be named the Royal Court Singer, and she was also named a member of the Royal Academy of Music.

Originally Published