Alexandra offered an altogether different sound to that of her fellow German singers. Although her chart success may seem minor at first glance, her impact on the German music industry cannot be over-estimated. Her death just over a year after her chart debut has ensured her a lasting cult status.
She was born Doris Treitz on 19 May 1942 in what was then the German town of Heydekrug and is now Silute in Lithuania. Her family moved and she spent her youth in the northern German towns of Kiel and Hamburg.
She dreamed of becoming a singer and in her teens, she took piano lessons and began composing her own songs. While studying design at college, she took part-time jobs and used the money to buy herself a guitar.
At the age of 20, she married Russian immigrant Nikolai Nefedov, who had been lodging at her parents’ house. However, the marriage broke down inside two years, leaving the now-single mother to pursue a career as a singer. First up, she decided to ditch her real name, opting for Alexandra instead – after her young son, Alexander.
She started out singing with Hamburg-based group The City Preachers in 1965 for a while.
Shortly afterwards, she was spotted by record producer Fred Weyrich, who liked the melancholic tone of her voice and saw a gap in the market for her. Soon she had a contract with the Philips label.
Weyrich masterminded her first release, which, unusually, was an LP, rather than a single. Entitled Premiere mit Alexandra and issued in 1967, the album was a mix of covers – including Françoise Hardy’s Parlami di te (retitled Sag mir was du denkst) and Clodagh Rodgers’ Every day is just the same (Warum) – and original material. Contributors included top songwriters such as Michael Kunze, Charly Niessen and Ralf Siegel Jnr. Alexandra also composed one song for the LP, the highly credible Die Andern waren schuld.
The album and a tour generated interest in the singer, prompting Zigeunerjunge, the story of an unrequited love for a gypsy boy, to be lifted from the LP as her debut single. Issued in the spring of 1968, its combination of folk charm and eastern European promise established her style. It became a hit, reaching number 22 in the German charts.
Her biggest success came with her follow up, Sehnsucht, a song she disliked intensely but was forced to sing by her manager and producer. The 45 narrowly missed out on the top ten but spent over six months in the German charts in the summer of 1968.
The dramatic Illusionen, which featured Auf dem Wege nach Odessa on the reverse, gave Alexandra a third hit and remains one of the singer’s best-loved songs. She had composed it with Austrian star Udo Jürgens, and it was later covered by Shirley Bassey as If I never sing another song.
Over the years, she would write a number of her own songs and co-write material with stars such as Jürgens and Salvatore Adamo.
A second LP, entitled simply Alexandra, was issued at the end of the year and sold well. Highlights included Grau zieht der Nebel, a version of an Adamo song entitled Nombe la neige, and Alexandra’s own composition Mein Freund, der Baum. Both would later be issued as posthumous singles.
Perhaps surprisingly then, her first single of 1969, Schwarze Balalaika, flopped altogether. She is understood to have been keen to enter that year’s national final to select a song to represent Germany at the Eurovision song contest. However, ill health prevented her from taking part. Whether she intended the song to have been one of the three she would have performed remains unknown.
A tour of Brazil was filmed for a German TV special, raising the singer’s profile further.
However, her final hit came with Erstes Morgenrot, which reached number 17 in the charts. Less than two weeks after its release in July 1969, the singer died in a car accident.
There has been a great deal of speculation over the years as to the cause of the crash. Some suspect foul play – her death was retaliation from the East German secret police, or Stasi, for dating a suspected American spy, Pierre Lafaire, they argue.
A slew of singles and greatest hits packages surfaced in the wake of her death.
On the face of it, Alexandra’s contribution to the German music scene of the late 1960s may seem small. However, her success prompted a wave of soundalike singles from a range of new and established stars. None could match her unique style and all scored poorly in comparison.