Swedish singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad shared lead vocal duties as part of ABBA, one of the most successful pop groups in music history, with over 370 million singles and albums sold worldwide. Lyngstad was the primary vocalist on several of the group's biggest hits, including "Money Money Money" and "Fernando," while also sharing lead vocals with Agnetha Fältskog on "Waterloo," "Dancing Queen," "The Name of the Game" and contributing to ABBA's trademark four-part harmony with her husband, Benny Andersson and his songwriting partner, Björn Ulvaeus. For much of the 1970s, ABBA was massively popular throughout Europe, Australia and Latin America, with the United States coming somewhat late to the party in the latter half of the decade when the group reached its creative apex with the No. 1 sensation "Dancing Queen." Personal turmoil between the two couples and declining stateside interest in all things disco-friendly led to ABBA's breakup in 1982, after which Lyngstad enjoyed solo stardom with the Top 20 single "I Know There's Something Going On" that same year. Subsequent releases failed to match its success, but she traded pop stardom for royalty when she married Prince Henrich Ruzzo Reuss of Plauen in 1992. Though now known as Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid Synni Reuss, Countess of Plauen, Anni-Frid Lyngstad's time with ABBA preserved her status as a reigning queen of '70s pop for millions of adoring fans.
Born Anni-Frid Synni Lyngstad on Nov. 15, 1945 in Bjørkåsen, a small village in northern Norway, she was the daughter of a Norwegian mother, Synni Lyngstad, and a German father, Alfred Haase, who was a member of the occupying Axis forces during World War II. Haase was evacuated with his troops following the capitulation of Germany in 1945, leaving Lyngstad's mother and grandmother, Arntine, to care for his child. Norwegian children with German fathers were viewed as undesirables in the postwar era, and were subjected to terrible hardships in the years following the war, including forced separations from their relatives, including placement in orphanages or mental institutions where abuse was rampant. Fearing such treatment at the hands of her countrymen, Lyngstad's mother and grandmother relocated to Sweden. Unfortunately, Synni Lyngstand soon succumbed to kidney failure, leaving Anni-Frid in the care of her grandmother, who helped to lift some of the loneliness that marked her childhood by imbuing her with a love of singing and music. Lyngstad's own vocal talents were evident from an early age, and by her early teens she was singing with a jazz orchestra on weekends. In 1963, the 17-year-old married fellow musician Ragnar Fredriksson, with whom she had two children, Hans and Ann Lise-Lotte. While caring for her new family, she also launched her own group, the Anni-Frid Four, before gaining exposure by winning a national talent contest sponsored by the EMI record label. Lyngstad's subsequent appearance on a popular television program led to a contract with EMI, which released her first single, "En Ledig Dag" ("A Day Off"), in 1967.
Two years later, she met singer-songwriter Benny Andersson at Melodifestivalen, the Swedish competition for the Eurovision Song Contest. They soon became engaged, but did not marry until 1978. Andersson produced her first solo LP, Frida (1971), which yielded a No. 1 single, "Min Egen Stad" ("My Own Town"). Andersson, his songwriting partner, Björn Ulvaeus , and wife Agnetha Fältskog all provided backing vocals on the track, which marked one of the earliest collaborations between all four future members of ABBA. In 1970, the two couples formed a group, Festfolk, which was poorly received, but a subsequent single, "People Need Love" (1972), credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, reached the Top 20 on the Swedish charts while also providing them with their first placement in America by reaching No. 114 on the Cashbox singles chart. Buoyed by this taste of success, they soon formed a new group, ABBA - an acronym formed from the first letters of each group member's first name - in 1973. While recording their debut album, Ring Ring, they discovered that when all four members shared vocals, the result was an exceptionally pure, clean harmony. When applied to engineer Michael B. Tretow's production technique, which combined a powerful "Wall of Sound" approach with glam-rock beats, the end result was the unmistakable sound of ABBA. Ring Ring established the group as hitmakers throughout Europe and in South Africa, but they remained almost completely unknown in the biggest international music markets: the United States and England.
Since 1971, Andersson and Ulvaeus had tried and failed to produce a song that would capture top prize at Melodifestivalen. They submitted "Waterloo," the title track from their second album, which took top prize at the 1974 Eurovision Contest and provided the quartet with worldwide exposure via the show's telecast. "Waterloo" would become their first No. 1 single in the U.K. and throughout Europe, as well as their first Top 10 song on the Billboard 100. The album itself, however, only reached No. 145 on the Billboard 200, which would begin a pattern for the group of hit singles, including "SOS" (1975) and their first U.S. No. 1, "Dancing Queen," balanced by low-ranking albums. During this period, Lyngstad also issued her second solo album, Frida ensam (Frida Alone (1975), which featured Swedish-language covers of songs by the Beach Boys and David Bowie, as well as a chart-topping, Swedish-language version of "Fernando." ABBA would record the song in English the following year, which provided them with another Top 20 U.S. pop single, though its accompanying self-titled album only reached No. 174 on the Billboard 200.
ABBA's fortunes in that regard would not change until 1977, when Arrival became their first Top 20 album in America. For the next two years, ABBA was a consistent presence in the American Top 20 with hits like "The Name of the Game" (1977), "Take a Chance on Me" (1977) and "The Winner Takes It All" (1979), as well as lesser tracks like "Chiquitita" (1979), "Voulez-Vous" (1979), "Does Your Mother Know" (1979) and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" (1979). Though the group's harmonies were its trademark, the decision to move Lyngstad and Fältskog's vocals to the forefront of songs provided ABBA with their greatest success. Lyngstad took lead vocals on such hits as "Money, Money, Money" (1976) and the ABBA version of "Fernando," while she and Fältskog were the leads on "Waterloo," "Mamma Mia" (1975), "Dancing Queen" and "The Name of the Game" (1977). Lyngstad also co-designed the group's glitzy stage wardrobe, and appeared to enjoy the intense scrutiny of the international spotlight more than her other three bandmates.
By the latter half of the 1970s, the focus on ABBA highlighted growing tensions within the quartet, which came to a head when Ulvaeus and Fältskog announced that they were seeking a divorce in 1979. Andersson and Lyngstad, who had finally married in 1978, fell victim three years later, separating in 1981 and finally divorcing in 1982. ABBA's profile on the international music scene had also gone into a slow decline, with tracks like "Super Trouper" (1981) and "When All Is Said and Done" (1981), from their final studio album, The Visitors, barely breaching the Top 40 in America. Though ABBA remained exceptionally popular in the U.K., Australia and other countries, their tenure at the top of the charts had run its course. After struggling to produce three new singles, including "Just Like That" and "You Owe Me One," which appeared on a compilation album, The Singles: The First Ten Years (1982), the group gave their last performance at a TV studio in Stockholm shortly before Christmas that year. While ABBA was winding down, Lyngstad had begun work on her third solo album, Something's Going On (1982). Produced by Phil Collins and released shortly after the breakup of her former group, the album featured the Top 20 U.S. hit "I Know There's Something Going On," which also topped the charts in numerous markets around the globe. Lyngstad immediately set to work on a follow-up, this time with producer Steve Lillywhite, but the resulting effort, Shine (1984), which featured a track written by Andersson and Ulvaeus as well as a songwriting collaboration between Lyngstad and Irish singer Kirsty MacColl, did not match the same level of success in America as its predecessor.
Lyngstad would remain silent for the next three years until the release of the single "Så Länge Vi Har Varann" ("As Long As We Have Each Other" (1987) with the pop group Ratata. Its success in Sweden was followed by nearly two decades in hiatus, during which she married Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss of Plauen, a Swedish-Swiss architect and prince of the former sovereign House of Reuss, in 1992. She also served on several Swedish environmental organizations, but remained out of the music business until 1996, when she recorded Djupa andetag (Deep Breaths), her first album in over a decade. The record topped the Swedish album charts, and was soon followed by a remix album titled Frida - The Mixes in 1998. However, this new phase of her recording career was cut short in 1998 following the death of her daughter, Ann Lise-Lotte, in a car accident, which was soon followed by the death of her husband from lymphoma the following year. In the aftermath of the twin tragedies, Lyngstand relegated her musical output to occasional contributions to other artists' albums, including Deep Purple's Jon Lord and former Blood, Sweat and Tears guitarist Georg Wadenius. In 2008, she joined Andersson, Ulvaeus and Fältskog at the Swedish premiere of Mamma Mia!, the feature film version of the popular stage musical based on the music of ABBA. Two years later, she joined Andersson in New York at ABBA's induction into the Rock and Roll Hal of Fame.
By Paul Gaita