Good night, Lillebjørn

Oslo’s beloved troubadour is laid to rest

 

Good Night, Lillebjørn Nilsen

Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB
Lillebjørn Nilsen was honored on the front pages of the Norwegian newspapers VG, Aftenposten, and Dagbladet—and now The Norwegian American.

Ragnhild Hjeltnes
Assistant Editor
The Norwegian American

Hardanger fiddle, bagpipes, willow flute, and one last song by Gitarkameratene. Oslo has said goodbye to Lillebjørn Nilsen.

Lillebjørn Nilsen’s funeral service

Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB
Lillebjørn Nilsen’s funeral service in Oslo City Hall was not paid for by the Norwegian state, but Oslo Municipality split the cost with the family.

People lined up outside Oslo City Hall on Feb. 9 when one of Norway’s greatest folk musicians was laid to rest. The room accommodated 900 people, including the minister of culture, the mayor, famous artists, and people who loved Lillebjørn’s music.

In accordance with the family’s wishes, the non-denominational funeral service was open to the public.

Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB
Lillebjørn Nilsen’s coffin was adorned with flowers at Oslo City Hall, where 900 people attended his funeral.

“The ties between him and Oslo’s residents are strong,” said Oslo Mayor Anne Lindboe (Conservative Party) in her introductory remarks.

“In recent weeks, I have heard many people say that Lillebjørn loved Oslo, and Oslo loved Lillebjørn back.”

The funeral was also the very last time the legendary Gitarkamateratene performed as a group. Jan Eggum, Halvdan Sivertsen, and Øystein Sunde sang “Se alltid lyst på livet” and said that the group is “officially done.”

It was one of many musical performances at the funeral. With the exception of one fiddle piece, all were songs with lyrics or music by Lillebjørn. Bolteløkka children’s choir performed “Barn av regnbuen.”

Steinar Ofsdal was one of many who said their final goodbyes during the service.

Ofsdal described his friendship with Lillebjørn from the band The Young Norwegians and their musical journey from orchestra and jazz to folk music.

“I got to know an incredibly creative guy, bursting with ideas, of all kinds. You also had a sense of humor that rubbed off on me,” he said.

Ofsdal also touched on another side of the beloved artist:

“I wonder if people realized how shy you were. You weren’t exactly a small talker. But you loved your audience, and you wanted to convey. You wanted to tell a story,” he said.

Former Minister of Culture Åse Kleveland also gave a speech. At the end of the 1970s, Kleveland played in the band Ballade! with Lillebjørn Nilsen, Birgitte Grimstad, and Lars Klevstrand.

“There are few who leave behind such a rich legacy, loved by so many,” she said.

“Lillebjørn had a sensitivity and thoroughness that enabled him to sense moods and formulate them in words and music, whether his songs told stories from his city, Oslo, or the countryside, whether political or wildly funny.”

Lillebjørn Nilsen’s funeral service

Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB
The coffin was solemnly carried out of Oslo City Hall after the service, accompanied by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.”

The popular artist did not get a funeral paid for by the Norwegian state, but Oslo municipality split the cost with the family.

The city also honored Lillebjørn Nilsen with bells chiming “God natt, Oslo” from the City Hall every day leading up to Feb. 9.

Lillebjørn Nilsen was 73 years old.

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ragnhild Hjeltnes

Ragnhild Hjeltnes is assistant editor of The Norwegian American. Born and raised in Norway, she studied at Luther College in Iowa and at the University of Minnesota. She has worked at the consulate in Minneapolis for several years and now lives in New York with her family.