A sad day as the Eurovision-family says farewell to one of its stars: Dutch artist Anneke Grönloh, who represented the Netherlands at the ESC 1964, has passed away at the age of 76.
Johanna Louise Grönloh, known as Anneke Grönloh, had a turbulent life before her breakthrough and Eurovision participation. She was born in 1942 in Tondano, former Dutch Indonesia, as daughter of a Dutch officer, while her mother was of Indonesian heritage. Young Anneke spent her first years in the harsh conditions of a Japanese prison camp, where she was known as “Yokotjang” (little sister) by the Japanese.
After the war, Anneke and her family set sail to the Netherlands, where she grew up in the city of Eindhoven. She started singing in school and slowly builded a career, performing in Belgium and the Netherlands. Her repertoire included jazz, rock ‘n roll as well as Eastern-inspired songs, which she interpreted under her Japanese nickname Yokotjang .
Breakthrough and Burning sand
Anneke hit the spotlight when she won the popular talent show Cabaret der onbekenden (“Cabaret of the unknown”) in 1959, earning a record contract. She quickly became very popular in the Netherlands and beyond.
Besides singing in Dutch and English, Anneke brought a Malaysian and Indonesian repertoire, which led to her recognition in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Her song Nina Bobo also became a success in Japan. Anneke Grönloh was on her way to become a superstar in the Far East.
Meanwhile, her star kept rising in the Netherlands and Belgium as well. In 1962 she participated in the then renowned song contest Songfestival van Knokke in Belgium, alongside other Dutch stars at the time, such as Mieke Telkamp and Milly Scott (Eurovision 1966). She performed her most iconic song and greatest hit Brandend zand (Burning sand), which was originally a German song (Heißer Sand) written by Kurt Felz and Werner Scharfenberger, and became a hit interpreted by Italian singer Mina.
The song tells about the assumed murder of a young man named Rocco by his love rival Dino, all for the sake of young Nina. Dino flees to a desert land (presumably symbolic for the French Foreign Legion), while Nina ends up as a dancer in Marseille. The tragic love story knows only losers, fittingly described by the songs’ melancholic lyrics and tunes.
Anneke’s English version of the song is titled Oh Malaysia, which was so popular the people wanted to make it the new national anthem of the country.
Anneke Grönloh also became well-known in Germany and was a regular guest in German music shows. A real “Anneke-craze” started, the singer performing seven days a week, followed by hordes of fans. While visiting the Dutch troops, the wheels were stolen from underneath her car, just to make her stay longer. The success started to take its toll, as Anneke began having fainting spells and got over-exhausted. She had to take more rest on doctor’s advice.
Brandend zand was followed by another huge hit, Paradiso. Fun fact: the song remained number 1 in the weekly hit parade for 16 consecutive weeks from November 1962 onwards, a feat that was only matched 54 years later by Ed Sheeran (Shape of you) and Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee (Despacito) in 2017.
At Eurovision 1964
At the height of her career, the singer was asked to represent the Netherlands at the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although she had a international career, Anneke was honoured to represent her country. In the national selection she presented three songs, Weer zingt de wind (The wind sings again), Vliegende Hollander (Flying Dutchman) and Jij bent mijn leven (You are my life). Jij bent mijn leven won, and eventually placed 10th with 2 points.
However, Anneke’s performance of Jij bent mijn leven received the international Press Award and became yet another hit in her home country. Incidentally, Anneke Grönloh became the first artist of non-European descent to participate in Eurovision.
Following Eurovision, Anneke Grönloh performed with stars such as Cliff Richard and Rudi Carrell and got her own TV-shows U spreekt met Anneke (You are speaking with Anneke) and De Anneke Grönloh Show, in which she received international stars such as Marianne Faithfull. She also embarked on a tour throughout Indonesia, alongside other successful Dutch-Indonesian stars.
She furthermore participated in the Golden Rose Festival in Montreux and the international song contest in Athens, and tried her luck in the Dutch selection for Eurovision 1969, although her entry Heartbeat was not chosen for the ESC. In 1972 she won the song contest of Menorca.
Having a steady career throughout the ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s, Anneke was made an officer in the Dutch Order of Oranje-Nassau by the then queen Beatrix in 1997. She made her acting debut in 2oo7, was proclaimed “Icon of the 1960’s” by Dutch Radio 5, and reached the spotlight again when rapper Ali B presented a new version of Brandend zand, called Brandend hart (Burning heart) in his TV-show, which was sung by artist Gio while Anneke interpreted Gio’s song Obsessie (Obsession). In 2015 Anneke celebrated seventy years of liberation by recording her version of the classic We’ll meet again, visiting the United Kingdom to present the first copy to her friend, famous singer Vera Lynn. She received an award for the single on National Veterans’ Day in The Hague.
Anneke Grönloh was also active in social causes, speaking up for the rights of gay people and discussing the taboo surrounding AIDS.
In 2016 Anneke Grönloh suffered a pulmonary embolism and had to rely on a oxygen machine since then. She kept on performing, but the shows were taking its toll, literally leaving her breathless at times. Prior to her 75th birthday in 2017, she retired from her career. Her last great concert was on the 26th of August 2017.
Anneke Grönloh passed away in Arleuf, France, on 14 September 2018. She was aged 76.
ESCToday.com sends sincere condolences to Anneke’s family, friends and fans. She remains an icon of the Dutch music scene and will always be a part of the Eurovision family!