Zarah Leander Bookmark and Share


15 March 1907 - 23 June 1981

Although Zarah Leander (real name: Zarah Stina Hedberg) studied piano and violin already as a small child, and sang on stage for the first time at the age of six, she made a serious attempt at an ordinary life. As a teenager she lived two years in Riga (1922–1924), learned the then most important international language, German, took up work as a secretary, married Nils Leander (1926), and had two children (1927 & 1929). However, in 1929 she was engaged, as an amateur, in a touring cabaret by the leading entertainer and producer Ernst Rolf and for the first time sang 'Vill ni se en stjärna', ('Do you want to see a star?') which soon would become her signature tune.

In 1930, she participated in four cabarets in the capital, Stockholm, made her first records, including a cover of Marlene Dietrich's 'Falling in love again', and played a part in a film. However, it was as Hanna Glavari in Franz Lehár's operetta 'The merry widow' that she had her definitive breakthrough (1931).

A second breakthrough, by contemporary measures her international debut, was the world premiere (1936) of 'Axel an der Himmelstür' at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, directed by Max Hansen. It was a parody on Hollywood and not the least a parody of the German Marlene Dietrich, who had fled a Europe marked by Mussolini's, Stalin's and Hitler's stars. In 1936, she landed a contract with UFA in Berlin. She became known as an extraordinarily tough negotiator, demanding influence, high salaries and half of it paid in Swedish kronor to a bank in Stockholm. A stupefied Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels dubbed her 'Enemy of Germany', but as a leading film star at UFA, she participated in ten films, most of them great successes, and great contributions to the Third Reich's propaganda, as a counterweight to the international isolation and criticism that not the least Swedish newspapers demonstrated.

In 1942, in the midst of a burning war, Zarah scored the two biggest hits of her recording career- in her signature deep voice, she sang her anthems of hope and survival; 'Davon geht die Welt nicht unter' & ' Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n'. Although no exact record sales numbers exist, she is likely to have been among Europe's best-selling recording artists before 1945. Her last film in nazi Germany premiered on March 3, 1943. After the war Zarah Leander was associated with Nazi propaganda, and was shunned. It took a while before she was able to perform again although she was never able to shed the nazi connection. After years she finally returned to Germany in 1967 for a concert series. After her death the recordings are released as the album ‘Uih’. In interviews she rejected allegations of her having had sympathy for the nazi regime. She claimed that her position as a German film superstar merely had been that of an entertainer working to please an enthusiastic audience in a difficult time. She repeatedly described herself as a political idiot. In 1981, she died in Stockholm of a stroke after having retired from show business.

After her death a lot of (German) artists payed hommage to Leander's songs, especially Nina Hagen. The song 'Zarah', based on 'Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n' was reinterpreted by La Hagen in 1983 and became a succesful hit single. Ironically the gay community embraced her song 'Kann den Liebe Sunde sein?' ('Can love be a sin?') from her movie 'Der Blaufuchs' (1938).

On the web:

- Zarah's website: http://www.zarah-leander.de
- Zarah's grave: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6926257
- Zarah on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0495136

If you like this, you probably like.. / european counterparts:

Nina Hagen (Germany)

What do we think:

DB: Ok, here's another one who doesn't score high on the political correctness ladder. Let's just say she did it all for the money (which is probably true). Political issues aside Zarah did give us some great German songs. And after the war she may have lost her reputation but not her humour. Announcing her hit 'Ich weiß...' at the age of 60 at the 1967 concerts she says: "some men like their girls ripe, some might say overripe".

PR: Since so many people before me have already got into Leanders actions during WW2, I will not go over that again. Whatever you may or may not think of her, the woman has earned her place in European music and movie history books. Her pre-war material proves that she could sing very well way back in the 1930's. And looking at her movies and various pictures I can only conclude that she was a real Diva. I still get goose bumps on my arms when I hear her sing 'Der Wind hat mir ein Lied erzählt'.


Most of Zarah's material is so old that it's only available as a compilation (even on vinyl). You just have to look for the one with the nicest cover and all her hits on it. Seperately you can buy her 67 live performance released in the eighties under the title 'Uih'.

- Compilation

♪♪♪♪ - Uih, Zarah live - 1967/released in 1985

♪♪♪♪♪= outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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