Otto Nielsen grew up in a musical family in Nonnegata. His parents were active in Arbeidernes Sangforening [Workers' Choir Association] and "Sverre" [Workers' Lodge]. At an early age Otto demonstrated great artistic talent. He was a member of Bispehaugen Skoles Musikkorps [Bispehaugen school marching band], and won prizes for his school essays. He graduated from middle school with excellent grades, and then started at Katedralskolen [upper secondary school]. During his time there he was a driving force behind the school revues, both as writer and performer, and gained the reputation of being a "revyfenomen" [master showman]. He continued to develop this talent during his time as a student at NTH [Norwegian Institute of Technology].
After dropping out from his architect studies he decided to be something in the entertainment industry. He started making radio shows, and also performed in a duo with his sister Gerd (nine years younger). They enjoyed great success in the 1930s. Gerd and Otto went on tour and made recordings, where their repertoire was mostly created by Otto Nielsen.
In 1934 Otto moved to Oslo where he stayed. But he felt he was a Trønder [person from Trøndelag County] all his life, which was also how audiences saw him. During the war Otto Nielsen was incarcerated at Grini from the autumn of 1943. Here he became an important cultural figure and spreader of good cheer, for example with the Christmas show Leve Friheten [Live Freedom] and the ironic song about what one does not have Det har vi [That's what we have].
His collaboration with Gerd continued more infrequently after the war. Primarily he was now a freelancer with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, and had permanent employment with the corporation from 1957. His towering radio reputation is connected for the main part to the Søndagsposten show [The Sunday Post], which he led for 22 years. He would have interesting guests on this show, including most of Norway's leading artists in literature and music. In its heyday, Søndagsposten had 600 000 listeners.
Otto Nielsen wrote the lyrics and melodies for a number of well-loved songs (such as the patriotic Trondheim song Litjvisa mi [My little song]). He also set tunes to the texts of others (such as Alf Prøysen's Du skal få en dag i mårå [A new day tomorrow]). He also made songs by others popular through his performance (such as Bakklandets Vakre Maja [Beautiful Maja from Bakklandet], actually a Swedish text/melody, which Otto Nielsen set in Trondheim).
In spite of his uncontested national position (he was awarded the honorary award at the Spelemannsprisen [national celebration of winning songs and performers] 1975), there is no doubt that the town where he was born is where he is remembered most fondly. Perhaps this is because Trønder blood must flow thick in the veins to understand and love a song such as Hajnnhojnn i bajnn [That dog on a leash – in very broad Trønder dialect]?!
Recommended reading: "Litjvisa mi": En vise-biografi ["Litjvisa mi": A Song biography]. Norsk musikkforlag, 2002.