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Tapio Rautavaara
Personal information
Born(1915-03-08)8 March 1915
Pirkkala, Finland
Died25 September 1979(1979-09-25) (aged 64)
Helsinki, Finland
Height189 cm (6 ft 2 in)
Weight85–87 kg (187–192 lb)
SportAthletics, archery
Event(s)Javelin throw
ClubOulunkylän Tähti, Helsinki
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)75.47 m (1945)[1][2]

Kaj Tapio Rautavaara (8 March 1915 – 25 September 1979)[3] was a Finnish singer (bass-baritone), athlete, and film actor.

Rautavaara (right) selling magazines at a railway station in Helsinki, 1931.
Rautavaara (right) selling magazines at a railway station in Helsinki, 1931.


Early years

Tapio Rautavaara was born in the municipality of Pirkkala (now Nokia), a suburb of the industrial city of Tampere, as the son of Henrik Kerttula and Hilda Rautavaara. Just three weeks later, his mother moved to the Helsinki suburb of Oulunkylä, where she had lived before. Rautavaara's father was rarely at home, and soon left the family permanently. In 1921, Tapio and his mother moved to Tampere. Rautavaara used to have conflicts with his conservative teachers due to his working-class background. Tapio earned pocket money by selling socialist papers for local workers of the Finlayson textile factory. Four years later, the family returned Oulunkylä, where Rautavaara lived the rest of his life.[4]

In the late 1920s, Rautavaara joined the local working-class sports club Oulunkylän Tähti (″Oulunkylä Star″) for practicing athletics.[4] Rautavaara's formal education ended at the elementary level.[1] By the outbreak of the Finnish Winter War in 1939, he had worked as a newspaper boy, roadworker, lumberjack and as a storeman at a co-operative mill. His national military service was with the Finnish Navy in the mid 1930s.

War time

When the Winter War broke out the Navy was not very active in the war and Rautavaara was allowed to continue working at the Osuustukkukauppa (OTK) mill. However, when the Continuation War broke out he was called to the army and he was assigned to the front line for the first year of the war. In the summer of 1942, Rautavaara was transferred to the war entertainment corps and worked for two years as a radio journalist in the frontier based Aunus Radio. During this time he became a known figure to the serving troops.[1] In the summer of 1944 the Finns had to pull out from East Karelia and Rautavaara's radio career ended.

Sports career

Kuuno Honkonen, Tapio Rautavaara, Pentti Siltaloppi and Salomon Könönen at the 1948 Olympics
Kuuno Honkonen, Tapio Rautavaara, Pentti Siltaloppi and Salomon Könönen at the 1948 Olympics
Rautavaara in 1949
Rautavaara in 1949

Rautavaara was a talented javelin thrower and archer. In 1937, he represented the Finnish Workers' Sports Federation at the Workers' Olympiads in Antwerp, finishing second in the javelin throw after his countrymen Erkki Autonen.[4] After the World War II, Rautavaara won a European bronze medal in 1946, an Olympic gold medal in 1948, and five national titles in 1944–45, and 1947–49. He placed fifth at the 1950 European Championships. In archery Rautavaara won a team gold medal at the 1958 World Championships and a national title in 1955.[1]

Music and acting career

After the war Rautavaara met Reino Helismaa, who composed and made the lyrics to Reissumies ja kissa (The Traveler and the Cat), which became Rautavaara's first hit. Composer Toivo Kärki joined this team, which produced over the next ten years many popular songs. In addition, Rautavaara composed and wrote the lyrics for many of his records. Rautavaara received gold records for the songs Isoisän olkihattu (Grandpa's Strawhat), Vain merimies voi tietää (Only a Sailor Could Know) and Häävalssi (The Wedding Waltz). The first song was written and composed by Rautavaara, the second one was composed by him and the lyrics were written by Heikki Saari.

Rautavaara, Helismaa and Esa Pakarinen toured Finland together at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s. The touring stopped due to personal problems, but Rautavaara continued to record songs with Helismaa's lyrics until Helismaa's death in 1965. By the time of his death in 1979 Rautavaara had recorded about 300 songs.[1]

Rautavaara became one of the most beloved singers in Finland. Some of his famous songs include Isoisän olkihattu (Grandfather's Straw Hat), Reppu ja reissumies (The Backpack and the Traveler), Korttipakka (The Deck of Cards), Lapin jenkka (The Lappland Schottische), Juokse sinä humma (Run, Horse, Run), Kulkuri ja joutsen (The Tramp and the Swan), Tuopin jäljet (Marks of the Tankard), Sininen uni (Blue Dream) and Anttilan keväthuumaus (Anttila's Spring Fever).[5]

Rautavaara was cast as the protagonist in numerous Finnish films, and was also supposedly a candidate for the part of Tarzan after Johnny Weissmuller had quit his career.[1]

Later years

The peak of Rautavaara's popularity was in the 1950s, stretching into the early years of the 1960s. After that, his music was left in the shadow of rautalanka and tango music and the popularity of the television. He continued to perform regularly, however, right up until his death, even though his gigs in the 1970s were for smaller audiences, such as in department stores and topping out ceremonies.

Death and tributes

On 25 September 1979 Tapio Rautavaara had been at the Tikkurila Swimming Center in Vantaa taking photographs for the book Kultaa, kunniaa, kyyneleitä (Finnish for "Gold, glory, tears") along with photographer Pentti Pekkala. After he had gone to the sauna, Rautavaara slipped and hit his head on the floor. He was taken to a nearby health center, where his injuries were not taken seriously, as staff believed him to be drunk. His head was bandaged and he was sent home. His wife and daughters laid him on a mattress on the floor of his office room at his home in Oulunkylä to sleep. The next night, he died as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. His wife told their daughter that he had gone. When the daughter asked where to, her mother replied "No, he's dead."[6]

Rautavaara was buried in the Malmi Cemetery in Malmi, Helsinki.[1]


A memorial by Veikko Myller entitled Kulkurin uni ("A Vagabond's Dream") to the memory of Rautavaara is located in the market square in central Oulunkylä, the district of Helsinki, where Rautavaara lived most of his life.[1]

TV documentary and film

Peter von Bagh created a TV documentary on Rautavaara entitled Tapsa at the time of Rautavaara's death in 1979. Timo Koivusalo used Rautavaara's and Helismaa's tours as the basis for his film Kulkuri ja joutsen in 1999.


In spring 2007 the Nokia Workers' theatre presented a play entitled Sininen uni (The Blue Dream), which was based on his life.

Rautavaara's influence on later groups

Ville Valo, the frontman of the Finnish rock band HIM, regards Rautavaara as his greatest idol in Finnish music.

Rautavaara's most renowned recordings

Tapio Rautavaara and Reino Helismaa back in 1950
Tapio Rautavaara and Reino Helismaa back in 1950

Rautavaara's filmography

Publicity photograph for Song of Smuggler from 1952.
Publicity photograph for Song of Smuggler from 1952.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Tapio Rautavaara.
  2. ^ Tapio Rautavaara.
  3. ^ "Henkilötiedot | Tapio Rautavaara". (in Finnish). Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Palmén, Jussi. "Just a Vagabond" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 21, 2015. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  5. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. "Biography". All Music Guide. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
  6. ^ Hopi, Anna: Iskelmälegenda Tapio Rautavaaran tytär muistelee isänsä traagista kuolemaa: "Laitoimme hänet nukkumaan työhuoneen lattialle", Iltalehti 20 June 2020. Accessed on 20 June 2020.