International Women’s Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women’s Day, is marked on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements – And for that we are celebrating “Women at Eurovision”
Where does one start? Well back at the very first Eurovision Song contest itself. Can you believe it all began in 1956 in Switzerland when a stunning woman by the name of Lys Assia walked onto the stage of the Teatro Kursaal in Lugano,Switzerland. Organised by the European Broadcasting Union it was unclear if the contest would be a success – history and female singers have proven that. 7 countries participated and each act performed 2 songs on which the Juries from the 7 countries voted. The winner was Lys Assia with the French song “Refrain” which is a firm favorite among Eurovision Fans and thus began the Eurovision Song Contest.
1966 is an important year in our celebration of Women at Eurovision. This was the year that the first black female singer entered the Eurovision Song Contest. Milly Scott represented The Netherlands that year. Milly was an extremely successful Jazz singer with her own television show in The Netherlands – “Scott in de Roos”. Milly performed the song “Fernando en Filippo” and placed 15th out of 18 songs receiving points from Ireland and the United Kingdom. Milly has spoken out about some of the racists comments that were made towards her at the time but that would not deter her from taking to the Eurovision stage. Female empowerment at it’s best.
The United Kingdom have the record of coming 2nd the most times at Eurovision – 15 at last count. The early years of the contest saw the UK send some of the world’s biggest names in Music to Europe looking for a Eurovision Victory – like James Bond singer Matt Monro and Ronnie Carroll. However their first Eurovision win came in the form of barefooted Sandie Shaw with her song “Puppet On a String”. She was the runaway winner on the night and went on to conquer the charts worldwide.
1970 saw many political troubles on the island of Ireland with harsh conflict erupting on the streets of Derry/Londonderry. However a young girl from “The Bogside” was to capture the imagination and votes of Europe at Eurovision that year. Derry born Dana (Rosemary Scallon) won the Eurovision Song contest for Ireland. This was the start of Ireland’s wining success at the contest. However what is most notable about Dana winning was that it was a time when political and religious beliefs were put to one side on the Island and the young woman managed to unite the nation in celebration on that night in Amsterdam.
Turning from Ireland we go to Norway who had scored zero points at Eurovision too many times to mention. However it would take 2 women to break that spell in Gothenburg Sweden in 1985. Bobbysocks!’ win for Norway was the country’s first. Host Lill Lindfors, upon Norway’s win, congratulated Hanne Krogh and Elisabeth Andreassen of Bobbysocks! by saying, “I must say I am honestly very happy that this happened because Norway has been last on so many times that you really deserve it!” Krogh replied, “You’re happy? What do you think we are?!” After an energetic reprise, the two women embraced to a standing ovation from the audience. Elisabeth Andreassen went on to represent both Norway and Sweden again at Eurovision and came second when Norway hosted the contest in 1996. However we return to that night in Gothenburg when 2 women broke the spell on Norway’s bad run at Eurovision.
Now we cannot mention the 1985 contest without talking about the presenter for the night – Lill Lindfors – who to this day is regarded as one of the best presenters the contest has ever had along with Katie Boyle from the UK. Lill had a wonderful sense of humor throughout the show and this one scene is classed as a Eurovision Gem and it isn’t even a song. Yes it was the Eurovision wardrobe malfunction that for it’s time was so risqué and still to this day is shown on many TV compilation shows. You get the feeling that Lill came up with the ides of doing it herself. I can still imagine the yelp at the tv while looking at the contest with my parents – totally unexpected.
For our next celebration we turn to 1998 for 2 completely different reasons. You cannot mention 1998 and not talk of Dana International. Born Yaron Cohen she has released eight albums and three additional compilation albums, positioning herself as one of Israel’s most successful musical acts ever. Born male, Dana discovered that she was transsexual at an early age, coming out when she was 13 and undergoing sex reassignment surgery in 1993. For this reason she had received both positive and threatening reactions from parts of Israeli society. Despite death threats she was determined to represent her beloved Israel at Eurovision in 1998 in Birmingham. The media attention that descended on her was unseen at Eurovision for many a year. In one of the closest Eurovision voting sequences ever, Dana emerged triumphant and went on to have a European hit with her song “Diva”. She did use her winning of the contest to highlight transsexual issues across Europe in her media interviews. For this we salute you Dana International.
Also that year we have to celebrate the efforts of Chiara from Malta. In the voting of the contest Chiara was neck and neck with Dana International and the Uk’s Amani. This was by far the best result that Malta had at the Eurovision Song Contest ever until then. Winning the contest is a dream of the Maltese population and to have the victory snatched from her hands on the last vote was truly hear breaking. However Chiara handled herself with poise and elegance and returned to Malta to possibly one of the biggest welcomes in the nation’s history. Not content with this Chiara picked herself up and brought Malta to second place in the contest in 2005 and the finals of 2009.
Turkey had been an overlooked country at Eurovision and had only appeared in the Top 3 once in 1997. However that was all to change in 2003 when Sertab Erener came to Eurovision in Latvia. Sertab was and is a huge star in her home of Turkey, but nothing could prepare her for what was going to happen in 2003 with her entry “”Everyway that I can” that she co-wrote. In a voting section that had the lead change hands between Russia, Belgium and Turkey it came down to the very last jury of Slovenia to decide the winner. Winning the contest brought Eurovision to Turkey for the very first time which was a social and cultural achievement for the country. Many have seen the contest that took place in Istanbul the following year as one of the best in the contest’s history for the hospitality and production values of the show. Again it took a woman to win the contest for the country.
Finally we cannot celebrate women in Eurovision without talking of last year’s winner Loreen. Apart from having the second highest winning score in the contest’s history and one of the biggest commercial successes in the contest for over 2 decades – Loreen has to be commended for her stance that she took on human rights during the run up to the Eurovision final in Baku. This could have been seen as competition suicide and Reuters actually questioned her on it after her semi final qualification at the winners press conference. However Loreen has never shied away from her political stances and also has redefined the potential success of Eurovision participation.
One cannot deny the social and political affiliations that Eurovision has across the continent and how it supports the establishment of a nation’s culture and global perception. It is a chance to break down stereotypes and share a values and beliefs. This should never be ignored or under estimated and should be celebrated and on this International Women’s Day we salute the women who have traversed that social chasm.
Author/Website C0- Founder and Editor In Chief
Source Eurovision Ireland
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