Andersen, Lale (1910–1972)

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Andersen, Lale (1910–1972)

German singer whose recordings of "Lilli Marlene" and "Never on Sunday" made her one of the 20th century's best-known recording artists. Born in Bremerhaven, Germany, in 1910; died in 1972.

Born in Bremerhaven, Germany, Lale Andersen was a talented singer who became a moderately successful cabaret performer. She traveled the circuit, appearing in small clubs throughout Germany and Central Europe. One song, "Lilli Marlene," recorded by Andersen in 1939, propelled her to international fame and would shape the whole of her life, though the song was not successful when it was originally released.

Hans Leip was a lyricist who had a longterm affair with Lilli Freud Marlé (a niece of Sigmund Freud), who inspired him to write this song. Leip merged his lyrics with a tune composed by Rudy Link. When the song went nowhere, Leip coupled the lyrics with a waltz composed by Norbert Schulze, which caught perfectly the melancholy mood that was settling over wartime Europe. Initially, however, Lale Andersen's 1939 Electrola recording of the song was ignored.

In 1941, German forces conquered Yugoslavia and set up a military radio station in Belgrade. One of the few German records on hand was Lale Andersen's recording of "Lilli Marlene," which the station's music director played frequently. Within days of being broadcast, this recording became a super-hit, as German soldiers in Radio Belgrade's broadcasting range requested repeat performances. Lale Andersen was not pro-Nazi; in fact, the Nazi minister of propaganda and public enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, had expressly forbidden broadcasts of her recordings because she had a reputation of being openly critical of the regime. But Goebbels was forced to swallow his personal animosities and allow broadcasts to continue because her performances were so popular that they buoyed German military morale in a time of increasing defeats.

Allied troops, too, picked up German broadcasts, and soon "Lilli Marlene" was as well known among Allied soldiers as among their German counterparts. During World War II, everyone hummed this "enemy tune," whose lyrics were translated into more than 40 languages. The anti-Nazi émigré Marlene Dietrich performed the best-known version of the song. "Lilli Marlene" became a shared wartime experience for women and men who fought and died on both sides.

After the war, Lale Andersen sank back into obscurity. For some years, her career was in eclipse, a second hit song forever eluding her. Then in 1960, she recorded the theme from Never on Sunday, a poorly funded film made in Greece, which starred Melina Mercouri . It was a smash hit both as a movie and as a song. Mercouri became an international star, and Lale Andersen was back on top after years of obscurity. In 1961, Andersen won the Eurovision Song Contest. Her autobiography was published in 1972, the year she died. Two films about "Lilli Marlene" were made, one released in 1950, the other, a movie by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, was released in 1982.


Andersen, Lale. Der Himmel hat viele Farben: Leben mit einem Lied. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1972.

"Lale Andersen," The Times [London], August 30, 1972, p. 14.

Marlé, Anne. "Lilli Freud Marlé," Jewish Chronicle [London], No. 6575, April 28,1995, p. 27.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Andersen, Lale (1910–1972)

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