Swiss legend Lys Assia, the first-ever winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, has passed away aged 94.
She won over Europe at the inaugural contest in 1956 with her French-language song “Refrain”, which explored love, loss and the memory of what was. Today, as friends, family and Eurovision fans mourn her loss, the themes of her song— melancholy and remembrance — come into sharper focus.
The days are gone and we have grown
Love hurt us, time healed us
But only and without spring
I run in vain, in the woods, the fields
Telling me to remember you, our love of another time
Born Rosa Mina Schärer on March 3, 1924, she was the youngest of twelve siblings. She took ballet and attended a conservatory, landing her first recording contract while she was still a teenager.
Known for her confidence and her charm in equal measure, she later said she entered Eurovision as a curiosity. She wasn’t particularly surprised she won.
“I was the best. I also looked good,” she said. “And my song was the best, the most beautiful of them all. No rock ‘n’roll, but plain and simple: text and melody. Finished.”
That experience sparked a life-long love of Eurovision.
She returned to the contest again in 1957, placing eighth of ten acts, and in 1958, when she placed second.
Eurofans will remember her failed bid in 2012 with “C’était ma vie“, which made the Swiss final but lost out to Sinplus’ “Unbreakable”.
In Baku she told us she wasn’t amused…particularly when Sinplus didn’t qualify for the final.
In 2013 her song “All In Your Head” didn’t get past the submission round in Switzerland. But she won over a new generation of fans by taking the risk of collaborating with a rap group.
As we wrote at the time:
Lys Assia, the first-ever winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, has dropped a hot rap number with Bernese rap group New Jack. ‘All In Your Head’ has attitude and spunk, and it’s very now. We have a feeling that the combination of old meets young, wrinkles meet porcelain skin, could see New Jack featuring Lys Assia dropping it like it’s hot at Eurovision 2013. Have a listen, and read the lyrics here.
The song encouraged us to step out of our heads, and to put the demons that lurk there to bed. It was an anthem of empowerment from a woman who continued to life her life on her terms until the very end.
As the lyrics said: “We all have of our ups and downs, all our dreams will not come true, some we love and some we lose, and it all depends on you.”
“And it’s all in your head, everything’s in your mind, all in your head, so listen to what you find…”
Lys, whose annual list of favourite was always a highlight of Eurovision season, never shied from being candid. Her outspoken approach was at times amusing, but it ultimately conveyed how much she grabbed life by the horns — and how she fully embraced her own emotions.
As she told us in 2015: “You can’t sing if you don’t have a certain feeling.”
Our thoughts are with her friends and family at this difficult time.