Published September 24, 2018
If you were to make a list of pivotal players in the Icelandic music scene, the name Vilhjálmur Vilhjálmsson, also known as Villi Vill, would no doubt be there. Widely considered to be one of the best voices Iceland has ever had, Villi’s musical catalogue is canonical in the country—songs people of all backgrounds and ages rejoice in.
The singer was born in Hafnir to a musical family. His father, Vilhjálmur Hinrik Ívarsson, was a celebrated harmonicist and singer. At 16, Villi began studying law and later medicine be fore joining his first band in his late teenager years.
Vilhjálmur found his first musical success after joining Ingimar Eydal’s Band at twenty. Together, the group released the hit songs ‘Litla sæta ljúfan góða’, ‘Raunsaga’, and ‘Vor í Vaglaskógi’. Villi left the band after one year, but not before playing his first grand concert in Reykjavík, which was widely celebrated.
After having his first child, Vilhjálmur joined Magnús Ingimarsson’s band as he needed a stable income to support his family. Magnús’s group played every night at the restaurant Röðli as well as regularly on television as part of Svavars Gests’ Variety Show. Here, Vilhjálmur began to be recognised more and more for his vocal talent and his study of medicine became second to his musical career.
Magnús’s band played mostly foreign hits but with Icelandic lyrics. At the time, this was a new concept for Iceland that had not been done before. Because of this, Vilhjálmur was oft considered a pioneer. Some of these songs were later recorded onto 7-inch vinyl records, which have since become rare in the country. After Vilhjálmur passed away, the album ‘Fundnar Hljóðritanir’ (‘Discovered Recordings’) came out, which contains some of this material.
In 1969, Vilhjálmur joined up with his sister Elly Vilhjálms, who was also a celebrated Icelandic musician. The album is called ‘Systkinin Vilhjálmur og Elly Vilhjálms syngja saman’ (‘The Siblings Vilhjálmur and Elly Vilhjálms Sing Together’) and was released on SG records. They later put out three more albums—two tribute works and one Christmas album—in the following three years and all found massive success.
Cementing a legacy
In 1972 and 1973, Vilhjálmur released two heavily acclaimed solo albums. The first was titled ‘Glugginn hennar Kötu’ (‘Kata’s Window’) and the second ‘Fundnar hljóðritanir’ (‘Recently Found Recordings’). Vilhjálmur’s sound was very different than that of the other artists who were famous at the same time like Hljómar and Trúbrot. He was very much admired by people who lived in the countryside as well as the older generation.
Villi’s last album ‘HANA-NÚ’ was released in 1977, and cemented his status as one of Iceland’s most iconic musicians. The songs ‘Lítill drengur’ (‘Little Boy’) and ‘Söknuður’ (‘Nostalgia’) were particularly famous.
Tragically, he passed on soon after the release of ‘HANA-NÚ’ (‘Lets Go’) at only 32 years old in a car crash in Luxembourg. He was only two weeks from being 33. His death lay heavily on the nation, but his legacy has survived with tribute acts, honorary concerts, and a biography by Jón Ólafsson. He is and will forever be one of the most important voices in Icelandic music.