Göran Bror Benny Andersson was born in Stockholm on 16 December 1946 to 34-year-old construction engineer Gösta Andersson and his 26-year-old wife Laila. His sister Eva-Lis Andersson followed in 1948.
Andersson’s musical background comes basically from his father and grandfather; they both enjoyed playing the accordion, and at six, Benny got his own. Father Gösta and grandfather Efraim taught him Swedish folk music, traditional music, and the odd schlager. Benny recalls the first records he bought were Du bist musik by Italian schlager singer Caterina Valente and Elvis Presley’s rendition of Jailhouse Rock; this smörgåsbord of different kinds of music was to influence and follow him through the years.
When Benny was ten he got his own piano, and taught himself to play. He left school aged 15 and began to perform at youth clubs. This is when he met his first girlfriend Christina Grönvall, with whom he had two children: Peter (born 1963) and Helene (born 1965).
In early 1964, Benny and Christina joined a group called Elverkets Spelmanslag (The Electricity Board Folk Music Group), who were by no means a folk music ensemble: the name was a punning reference to their electric instruments. The repertoire was mainly instrumentals, and Benny recalls one of his standout numbers was Baby Elephant Walk. He also attempted some of his first pieces of songwriting around this time for this band.
In March 1964, Elverket Spelmanslag was up against another band in a talent contest, The Hep Stars. When Benny stepped in as the Hep Stars’ keyboardist in October of that year, he knew that a career in music was for him.
The Hep Stars years (1964-1969)
The Hep Stars got their breakthrough in March 1965 with the hit song Cadillac, and eventually became the most celebrated of the Swedish 1960s pop bands. Andersson consolidated his place as the band’s keyboardist and musical driving force as well as becoming a teen idol. The band performed mostly covers of international hits, but Benny soon started writing his own material, and gave the band hits such as No Response, Sunny Girl, Wedding, Consolation, It’s Nice To Be Back and She Will Love You.
Before ABBA (1969-1972)
Benny Andersson met Björn Ulvaeus in June 1966, and the two started writing songs together, their first Isn’t It Easy To Say, eventually recorded by The Hep Stars. He also had a fruitful songwriting collaboration with Lasse Berghagen, with whom he wrote several songs and submitted Hej, Clown for the 1969 Melodifestivalen – the Swedish Eurovision Song Festival finals. The song finished in second place. During this contest he met vocalist Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and they soon became a couple. Around the same time his songwriting companion Ulvaeus met vocalist Agnetha Fältskog.
The personal relationships and Andersson and Ulvaeus’ songwriting collaboration led quite naturally to the very close co-operation which the four friends had during the following years. Benny and Björn scored their first hits as songwriters in the spring of 1969: Ljuva Sextital (made a hit by Brita Borg) and Speleman (a hit for The Hep Stars). As the two couples began supporting each other during recording sessions, the sound of the girls’ voices convinced the songwriters to model their ‘group’ on the like of MOR acts Blue Mink, Middle of the Road and The Sweet. Thus, ABBA came to life.
The ABBA years (1972-1982)
The foursome’s breakthrough came with winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Sweden with Waterloo on 6 April 1974. During the next eight years, Andersson (together with Ulvaeus) wrote the music and produced eight studio albums with ABBA. The group achieved great success globally and scored a chain of number 1 hits.
ABBA’s popularity continues to this day, with record sales now in excess of 400 million. Their greatest hits compilation Gold has become the biggest-selling album in the UK ever.
After ABBA’s last recordings in 1983, Andersson continued writing music with Ulvaeus. Their first project was the stage musical CHESS, written with Tim Rice. The CHESS concept album – with vocals by Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson, Murray Head and Swedes, Tommy Körberg and Björn Skifs – was released in October 1984, selling two million copies worldwide. The Paige/Dickson duet I Know Him So Well became a major number 1 hit, and Murray Head’s One Night In Bangkok gave Andersson and Ulvaeus a US number 3 hit.
CHESS was staged in London’s West End Prince Edward Theatre in May 1986, and ran for almost three years. A Broadway staging in April 1988 received disastrous reviews, and closed after just two months.
In 2002, after a drastic rewrite of both book and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, Lars Rudolffson and Jan Mark, CHESS på Svenska opened in Sweden. It won 6 Swedish Theatre awards, and the CD cast recording went to number 2 in the charts. It was filmed by Swedish television and the recording released on DVD.
CHESS has subsequently had many reincarnations, including a concert version with almost no dialogue performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 and 13 May 2008, which Tim Rice described as the new “official version”. The recording of this concert was released on June 16 2009, as a DVD and 2-CD cast album.
Kristina från Duvemåla
From the late 1980s, Andersson had worked with Ulvaeus on an idea for an epic Swedish language musical based on his affection for traditional folk music, and in October 1995, Kristina från Duvemåla premiered in Sweden. The musical, based on The Emigrants novels by Swedish writer Vilhelm Moberg, ran successfully for almost five years, before closing in June 1999.
A 3CD Box Set of the show was released entitled Kristina från Duvemåla – Den Kompletta Utgåva, together with a ‘highlights’ package on one CD, called 16 Favoriter which includes the single release version of Guldet blev till sand.
An English-language version, simply titled Kristina, was staged in concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City for two nights in September 2009, yielding a live recording, and at the Royal Albert Hall, in London for one night in April 2010.
In February 2012, a new Swedish language Kristina från Duvemåla production opened in Helsinki, Finland. In its first season, the musical played to 98% capacity audiences, and continues to be popular. The show will close in May 2013.
In the mid 1990s Andersson began work on another collaboration with Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! – a musical built around 24 of ABBA’s songs. The show became a worldwide box-office blockbuster. Since its premiere on London’s West End in April 1999, Mamma Mia! has been seen by over 50 million people in more than 300 cities around the world.
A film version of Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth premiered in London on 30 June 2008. The film of Mamma Mia! has become the most successful movie musical of all time. It was the number one box office smash of 2008, and has become the biggest-selling DVD ever in the UK.
Andersson’s latest project is a new piece of musical theatre written in collaboration with Björn Ulvaeus (lyrics), Kristina Lugn (book), and Lars Rudolffson (production). Hjälp sökes which features ballads, including Bortom Sol och Måne (Beyond The Sun And Moon), alongside Russian-type marching music, pop, rock and circus-style pieces, received fantastic reviews following its premiere at Stockholm’s Orionteatern on 8 February.
A CD of all eight songs along with some of the incidental music that features in the show is currently being recorded with vocals by cast members Sofia Pekkari, Johan Ulveson and Magnus Roosman. The CD is expected to be released in May 2013.
Post-ABBA solo albums
In 1987, Benny released his first solo album Klinga mina klockor. All the music was written and performed by him on accordion, backed by Orsa Spelmän (Orsa Folk Musicians) on fiddles. A second solo album followed, called November 1989.
Benny Anderssons Orkester
Benny currently writes for, and performs with, his own dance band BAO (Benny Anderssons Orkester). The band is made up of 16 musicians and utilizes the vocal talents of fellow Swedes Helen Sjöholm (Kristina från Duvemåla) and Tommy Körberg (CHESS). Lyrics to any new material, usually being written by Benny’s song writing partner and best friend of almost 50 years Björn Ulvaeus.
BAO’s biggest hit Du är min man, sung by Helen Sjöholm achieved a new record in Sweden by staying on the Svensktoppen chart for 278 weeks, 66 of which were spent at number 1.
BAO have released 7 albums and a box set, all achieving considerable success in Sweden. Their 2009 album, Story Of A Heart, was also released in the UK and USA. BAO performed at the Swedish premiere of Mamma Mia! The Movie, in Stockholm on 4 July 2008, have made many appearances on Swedish television, and regularly tour Sweden during the summer months.
In 1985, Benny Andersson produced and released an album, Gemini, with brother and sister Anders and Karin Glenmark, featuring new songs by Andersson and Ulvaeus. The duo, who were themselves called Gemini, recorded a second album with more music by Benny and Björn, Geminism, which was released in April 1987. It contained the hit Mio My Mio; also to be found on the soundtrack to the film Mio in the Land of Faraway, for which Andersson co-produced the music.
In 1990, Andersson scored a Swedish number 1 hit with Lassie, sung by female cabaret group Ainbusk, for whom he also wrote the Svensktoppen hits Älska mig and Drömmarnas golv. He decided to produce an album with Josefin Nilsson from the quartet, resulting in the 1993 English-language album Shapes, featuring ten new Andersson/Ulvaeus compositions.
In 1992, Benny wrote the introduction melody for the European football championship, which was organised by Sweden that year.
For the 2004 semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, staged in Istanbul thirty years after ABBA had won the contest in Brighton, Benny appeared briefly in a special comedy video made for the interval, entitled Our Last Video. Each of the four members of ABBA appeared briefly in cameo roles, as did others such as Cher and Rik Mayall. The video was not included in the official DVD release of the Eurovision Contest, but was issued as a separate DVD release.
In 2009 Benny wrote a song, with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, titled 2nd Best to None. It was originally intended as a jingle solely for the website of his Stockholm hotel ‘Rival’. However, it became a full-length promotional video, sung by and featuring the hotel’s staff, and reached number 54 in the Swedish charts when it was released as a single. This hit was followed in 2010 by another Benny and Björn song Merry Christmas My Friend, which featured on the hotel’s website.
In 2010 Benny Andersson was commissioned to write a piece of music for the Royal wedding of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling. The composition titled Vilar glad. I din famn with lyrics by Kristina Lugn was performed during the wedding ceremony and released as a single in June 2010. It was later recorded by BAO and included on their 2011 album O klang och jubeltid.
In October 2012, Benny unveiled En skrift i snön, a near-11 minute long “rhapsody for organ, mixed choir, flute, grand piano and violins” written (with lyrics once again by Kristina Lugn), specially for the inauguration ceremony of Luleå University’s new super organ at Studio Acusticum in Piteå.
Benny Andersson has written music to several films for screen and television; the first attempt in the early 1970s for the obscure Swedish movie The Seduction Of Inga. The film flopped, but the Björn & Benny single She’s My Kind Of Girl surprised the composers by being released in Japan and becoming a Top 10 hit (the song re-named in Japan as The Little Girl Of The Cold Wind).
In 1987, Andersson wrote music and co-produced the soundtrack with Anders Eljas for the film Mio in the Land of Faraway, based on Swedish author Astrid Lindgrens Mio, my Mio. The title song became a hit in Sweden for Gemini.
In 2000, Benny wrote the music for fellow Swede (no relation) Roy Andersson’s film Sånger från andra våningen (Songs from the Second Floor). He also wrote the theme for Roy Andersson’s next film, Du levande (You, the Living).
Throughout 2007, Benny worked on the soundtrack for the film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, re-recording the ABBA songs with musicians from the original ABBA recording sessions.
In 2012 Benny wrote the score for the Swedish film Palme: Alskad och hatad (Palme: loved and hated), a documentary about the former Swedish Prime Minister who was fatally gunned down on a Stockholm street in 1986.
Together with Ulvaeus, Andersson was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in a category Outstanding Music (for the musical CHESS), and for a Tony Award in a category Best Orchestrations (for musical Mamma Mia!). Original cast recordings of both musicals were nominated for a Grammy Award. Benny and Björn won a Touring Broadway Award for the musical Mamma Mia! (best score).
During his post-ABBA career Benny Andersson has won numerous Swedish Grammis, and together with Björn Ulvaeus has received the Special International Ivor Novello award from ‘The British Academy of Composers and Songwriters’, twice, The Music Export Prize from the Swedish Ministry of Industry and Trade twice, as well as the Lifetime Achievement award from the Swedish Music Publishers Association (SMFF).
In 2002, Andersson was given an honorary professorship by the Swedish Government for his ability to create high-class music reaching people around the world. In 2007, he was elected a member of Royal Swedish Academy of Music, and in 2008 received an Honorary Doctorate from the Stockholm University Faculty of Humanities for contributing importantly both to the preservation and the growth of the Swedish folk music tradition.
Benny was named Rockbjörnen’s Swedish Artist of the 20th Century in 2000 and was presented with their Lifetime achievement award in 2009.
In recognition of his commitment to music and audio engineering, Benny was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Luleå University of Technology in November 2012.
In January 2013, Benny’s score to the documentary Palme was awarded a Guldbagge (Swedish film award) for ‘Best Music’.
Benny Andersson was engaged to Christina Grönvall after she became pregnant by him, when he was just 16 years old. In 1963 they had a son, Peter Grönvall and later a daughter, Helene. They never married and split in 1966. Christina kept custody of the children as Benny was then at the peak of his Hep Stars’ success. In the 1990s, Peter formed One More Time, a group that enjoyed European success with the ABBA-esque song Highland and later as Sweden’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest 1996.
Benny married Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA in October 1978, after a nine year engagement, but divorced in 1981. He married Swedish TV presenter Mona Nörklit in November 1981, and had a son, Ludvig (born January 1982). Ludvig has since followed in his father’s footsteps, forming his own bands, Ella Rouge and Atlas.
Benny has 5 grandchildren.