Z is for Zetterlund

Z, “zed” to those of you of a British persuasion, is for Zetterlund. That’s Monica Zetterlund, the late Swedish jazz singer and actress.

Z is not really a Swedish letter. My Swedish-English dictionary only lists 8 words starting with Z and all of them are of foreign origin, from zeppelin and zinc to zoology and zulu. Then there’s Zigenare, the derogatory word for the Roma. While its English counterpart Gypsy, comes from the word Egypt, the origin of the Swedish version is uncertain, but seems to be linked to a Turkish word that reflects the name of a tribe in India, where the Roma came from.

Nowadays really cool computer gaming and hacker leet dudes tend to replace the letter S with Z, just to show how incredibly hip they are. Well, Swedes have been doing that for decades and decades, mostly in names. And that brings us back to Monica Zetterlund. Born just before World War II in the province of Värmland, she grew up listening to artists like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

Monica Zetterlund began as the singer in her father’s band. She was at the height of her career in the 60’s and 70’s and even represented Sweden at the 1963 Eurovison Song Contest, although perhaps because jazz is not exactly what the contest is all about, she finished tied for last with the infamous “nul point”.

A spinal disease forced her retirement in 1999, and Monica Zetterlund died six years later in a fire at her Stockholm apartment.