Being the first ever Eurovision winner, Lys Assia may have been entitled to the title of First Lady of the contest, yet she never took it for granted. In fact, she acted as proud ambassador for the contest, the success of which no one could imagine back in the days she took part and won. Especially in the last fifteen years Lys Assia proudly carried out the duties of her role as ambassador — a role with unspoken and unwritten duties, most of which she defined herself.
During her long and successful career, she performed for Queen Elizabeth II, the Egyptian King Faruk and Eva Peron. She was also involved with many charitable events all over the world. Born Rosa Mina Schärer in 1924 in Rupperswil, in the North of Switzerland, the artist who we would get to know as Lys Assia started her career as a dancer, but soon turned to singing, achieving her biggest hit in 1950 with O Mein Papa.Lys Assia also starred in some roles as an actress, but she is mostly remembered for winning the very first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano, in her native Switzerland, in 1956. She performed the two Swiss entries in that first contest, the winner being the second one, titled Refrain.
Winning is always fun, and having enjoyed the experience, Lys came back to the competition on two further occasions, in 1957 trying, unsuccessfully, to repeat her early success with the same team from the year before, and in 1958 with the distinctive Giorgio, which finished in 2nd place, one better than Domenico Modugno's Volare.
Lys Assia remained a loyal supporter of the Eurovision Song Contest, being a guest of honour in many occasions, like in Gothenburg in 1985 when Eurovision was celebrating its 30th edition. In 2003, she addressed millions of viewers via a satellite link from Cyprus, wishing the contestants the best of luck ahead of the Grand Final in Riga. Being asked by presenter Marie N., who also won the contest the year before, how she looked back at the 1956 contest, she spoke the legendary words: "It was fun — I won!" In 2005, she performed during Congratulations, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest and in 2008 she started the voting in Belgrade.
In 2011, she decided it would be time for her return to the stage of the Eurovision Song Contest as a contestant. She entered the Swiss national selection for 2012, becoming one of the fan favourites with the nostalgic C'était Ma Vie (It Was My Life), written by Eurovision winners Ralph Siegel and Jean-Paul Cara:It was my life, it's my destiny And I will sing all my refrains until the end It was my life, it was the joy It was both of us, happy days for you and meHowever, it was not to be and Lys was not selected for Switzerland that year. She also applied for the Swiss ticket the following year, but did not reach the Swiss final for the 2013 contest with All In Your Head, which she performed together with the group New Jack.
Many fans still remember her performance of her winning song Refrain in the Euroclub in 2009, in Moscow, when it seemed like no years had passed since her victory. This was understandable, as she once said: "Singing gives me back the joy of life."In Stockholm, just days before the city hosted the 2016 contest, she took part in a special meet and greet event for fans and press, where she shared her memories in a variety of languages -she was fluent in at least six- and took pictures with every single person who asked.
In the last years, Lys Assia lived on Zurich's Goldcoast fighting with health problems. "Life is too short to spend on unimportant things," she said to the German press. "Unfortunately, one notices this but usually only in retrospect. My life was very happy. We should never be jealous of other people's happiness." Lys Assia passed away on the 24th of March, 2018 at Zürich's Zollikerberg Hospital, having recently turned 94.