Culture / Obituary

“She Was Voted Sweden’s Best Singer”: Remembering Marie Fredriksson

Marie Fredriksson at home in her studio, Sweden - 25 Nov 2013

MARIE FREDRIKSSON was the face of Roxette, a Swedish pop duo who achieved huge international success with singalong hits such as The Look, Listen to Your Heart, and It Must Have Been Love

Roxette came together in 1986 when Marie Fredriksson, a spiky-haired blonde, began collaborating regularly with Per Gessle. The two knew each other from having been in earlier bands and had gone on individually to score many hits in the Swedish charts.

But Gessle, who played guitar and synthesiser and would write most of the group’s songs, knew that performing in English would bring his music to a wider audience. That recognition, in the telling, depended in part on luck. An American exchange student from Minneapolis, Dean Cushman, liked the band’s second LP, Look Sharp! (1988), so much that on his return home he urged it on his local radio station. Roxette had yet to gain much of a profile outside Sweden and EMI America had recently decided not to sign them.

The radio station also rejected the album, but when Cushman went to collect it he bumped into the director of programmes, who admired the cover art. The station played the first track on the record – The Look – which had not been released as a single, and the listener response was overwhelming. Within two months, it was No 1 in the US (No 7 in the UK) and topped the hit parade in two dozen other countries. The LP would go on to sell nine million copies. Further hits followed. The pop-rock song Listen to Your Heart gave them a second No 1 in America, and Dangerous reached No 2, by which time they were drawing comparisons with Eurythmics. They were then asked to contribute a song to an upcoming film, provisionally entitled $3,000. Lacking the time to write one, Gessle dusted off what had been a Christmas tune for the German market but which in 1987 had gone largely unnoticed there.

The director Garry Marshall liked It Must Have Been Love so much that he gave the heart-wrenching power ballad more than a minute of film in what became Pretty Woman (1990). It gave Roxette their third US No 1 (No 3 in the UK) and by 2012 it had been played more than five million times on the air there. Other smashes such as Dressed for Success, Fading Like a Flower, and Joyride – their fourth US No 1 in three years – further cemented their standing as the band of the moment.

They had more than a dozen Top 20 hits in Britain and with eventual sales of sixty million records would become the second most successful Swedish act after ABBA. Yet for all that, Roxette, and Marie Fredriksson, arguably never gained the standing they deserved. Perhaps being Swedish deprived them of an identity that would have anchored them more in the consciousness of the English-speaking world. The wry title of their greatest hits album – Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus! (1995) – also downplayed the skill with which their music was written and the affecting range of Fredriksson’s voice, crystalline in tone and soaring in pitch.

“She preferred more ‘majestic’ melodies where she could exploit her superb vocal abilities,” reflected Gessle. “She made all my songs so much better than they actually were.” But by the mid-1990s, she had wearied of touring and of making stadium hits to order (her records in Swedish were testament to her liking for a more intimate style of singing). She was much helped by meeting her husband, Mikael Bolyos, a fellow musician, but she did not invite Gessle to her wedding and by 2000 was keeping a taxi waiting outside the studio while she recorded her vocals.

In 2002, Roxette agreed to split but the day before the announcement of their last concerts Marie Fredriksson collapsed at home in Stockholm, fracturing her cranium on the bathroom floor. A malignant brain tumour was discovered and she spent much of the rest of her life combating its effects.

Gun-Marie Fredriksson was born on 30th May 1958 in Ossjö, Skåne. Her father, originally a farmer, became a postman when the family moved to nearby Ostra Ljungby and as a child she would accompany him on his rounds. Her mother worked in a factory and, the youngest of five children, Marie was often left alone at home or with her siblings, from whom she learnt to play music. She also sang in church.

When Marie was seven, her eldest sister was killed in a car accident while on the way to buy a dress for her engagement party. Her grieving parents increasingly left Marie to find her own way. She later recalled being caught smoking by a teacher the first time she tried a cigarette, running away and colliding with a balcony, leaving her with a broken nose.

By her teens, she was becoming influenced by the music of Joni Mitchell and female jazz singers. Although shy, she took the lead in a school musical that she had co-written. It toured nationally and was performed before the prime minister, Olof Palme. In 1978, with her then boyfriend, whom she had met at a Supertramp concert, she formed the punk group Strul. Although its line-up changed with almost every gig, the band became popular enough to anchor their own festival for several years.

Marie Fredriksson still lacked the urge to come out from behind her keyboards, but as her vocal talents became better known she emerged as a solo performer in Sweden in the mid-1980s. Her second solo LP won the award as record of the year there in 1986 and for four years in a row she would be voted best Swedish female singer. During her initial recovery from her illness, she was left blind in one eye for a time and unable to speak. She made much progress and found taking up drawing therapeutic. Yet her self-confidence had suffered. It was only after being encouraged by fans to take to the stage in 2009 while watching Gessle play in Holland that she rediscovered her desire to sing live. 

Thereafter, she and Gessle released new music and embarked on a world tour, playing their old hits since her memory loss made it difficult for her to remember new lyrics. In 2010 they performed at the wedding of the Crown Princess of Sweden. Marie Fredriksson’s cancer returned, however, and in 2016 she retired on medical advice.

She is survived by her husband and their son and daughter.

MARIE FREDRIKSSON was born on 30th May 1958. She died on 9th December 2019 aged 61.

For the latest Nordic news, follow @FikaOnlineBlog on Twitter.

This article has also been published in The Telegraph.


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