Wim Sonneveld

Willem "Wim" Sonneveld (Dutch pronunciation: [ˌʋɪləm ʋɪm ˈsɔnəvɛlt]; 28 June 1917 – 8 March 1974) was a Dutch cabaret artist and singer. Together with Toon Hermans and Wim Kan, he is considered to be one of the 'Great Three' of Dutch cabaret. Sonneveld is generally viewed as a Dutch cultural icon for his work and legacy in theatre, musicals and music.

Wim Sonneveld
Wim Sonneveld as Friar Venantius in 1963
Born(1917-06-28)28 June 1917
Utrecht, Netherlands
Died8 March 1974(1974-03-08) (aged 56)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
MediumStand-up, television, film
Years active1932–1974


Wim Sonneveld was born in Utrecht, Netherlands, to Gerrit Sonneveld and Geertruida van den Berg. In 1922, at a very young age, he lost his mother. After his time at school, where he was the class clown, he had a few unsuccessful jobs.

In 1932 he started singing in an amateur choir, the Keep Smiling Singers, after which he teamed up with Fons Goossens in 1934 to form a duo and perform at anniversaries of associations and institutions. Later that year he met reviewer Huub Janssen and after a journey through France in 1936 they started living together in Amsterdam, at first on the Westermarkt, later on the Prinsengracht. In that same year he worked for Louis Davids. During the day he worked as an administrator and in evening he played small roles and sang chansons. In that same period he performed with his partner Huub in his own club De Rarekiek. In 1937 he sang in 'cabarets' (floor shows in nightclubs) with Suzy Solidor and Agnes Capri in France.

After the declaration of war of 1940 he returned to the Netherlands, where he acted in plays and in the revue of Loekie Bouwmeester. In 1940 he performed in the Theater der Prominenten and at Abraham van der Vies' De Sprookjesspelers. Here he met Conny Stuart. In 1943 he formed his own association, consisting among others of Conny Stuart, Lia Dorana, Albert Mol, Joop Doderer, Hetty Blok and Emmy Arbous.

Wim Sonneveld was gay, though not openly as it would have been unacceptable during that era.

He died in 1974 due to a heart attack.

Rim Ram

Between 1943 and 1959 he staged with his own cabaret association Rim Ram a great number of shows:

  • 1943 Alleen voor dames (text by Hella Haasse)
  • 1944 Sprookjes
  • 1944 Opus drie
  • 1945 De bloemetjes buiten
  • 1945 Tingeltangel
  • 1946 Verre reizen
  • 1946 Tutti frutti
  • 1946 Leidscheplein
  • 1947 Vanavond om acht uur
  • 1947 't Is maar comedie
  • 1948 't Is historisch
  • 1949 We spelen pantomime
  • 1949 Iene-miene-mutten
  • 1950 't Is mij een raadsel
  • 1951 Herhalingsoefeningen
  • 1951 Artiestenpension
  • 1952 Boekenfeest
  • 1952 Gastenboek
  • 1952 Het meisje met de grote voeten
  • 1953 Bloemlezing (compilation show)
  • 1953 In de winckel van Sinckel
  • 1954 Waar de blanke top der duinen
  • 1955 Huis tuin en keuken
  • 1957 À la carte
  • 1959 Rim Ram

Willem Parel

A famous creation of Wim Sonneveld was Willem Parel, son and grandson of a Dutch street organ grinder as well as chairman of the En-pé-gé, the Dutch Pearl Association (Nederlands ParelGenootschap). This brought him great success on the VARA-radio in the early fifties. Parel would expose movingly about ‘organ grinding in general and the psychology of the penny cup in particular’. Over time Wim Sonneveld came to hate his creation, but he knew that Willem Parel drew a large audience and he couldn't live from just singing chansons. In 1955 a movie was shot called The Wondrous life of Willem Parel.

Film, musical, solo

Wim Sonneveld has played in some movies: the aforementioned The Wondrous life of Willem Parel as well has the Hollywood thriller The Pink Hippopotamus (1956) and a later the films Silk stockings (1957) and Wasp End (1957).

After 702 performances of the musical My Fair Lady, since 1960, after his own club went bankrupt in 1959, with which he ‘wore out’ three Eliza Doolittles (Margriet de Groot, Dorien Mijksenaar and Jasperina de Jong) in his role as dr. Higgins, he went solo with television shows like Doe es wat, meneer Sonneveld (1962) and Blijf in Holland (1963). In 1964 he again took the stage with Een avond met Wim Sonneveld.

Remarkable was his threefold guest role in episode 16 of the television series Ja zuster, nee zuster by Annie M.G. Schmidt and Harry Bannink in 1967, as himself, Arie Pruijselaar junior and Arie Pruijselaar senior. In 1967 he performed alongside Ina van Faassen in a theater show and in 1971 with Willem Nijholt and Corrie van Gorp. His last film was Op de Hollandse toer (1973).

He would have liked to end his career singing French chansons, because his heart lay in France, where he had a house in Roquefort-les-Pins.

On 1974-03-08 Wim Sonneveld died at the age of 56 in the VU hospital in Amsterdam from his second heart attack.

Even though Wim Sonneveld never publicly stated that he was homosexual, he shared his life only with men, first with Hubert Janssen, later with prop designer, text writer and painter Friso Wiegersma (1925–2006) whom he met in 1947 and who created the character Nikkelen Nelis (Nickle Nelis) for him, a character, made from the well-known street singer from Rotterdam, named Koperen Ko (Copper Ko).

Famous characters

  • Willem Parel
  • Nikkelen Nelis the street singer
  • Friar Venantius
  • The Stable Master

Famous conferences

  • Artificial insemination
  • Hello, man behind the counter
  • Croquettes
  • Grandfather
  • The Boys (about the father-problems with the love-life of his just-married 'daughter')

Famous songs

  • Aan de Amsterdamse grachten
  • Het dorp (La montagne)
  • Catootje
  • Margootje
  • Tearoom Tango
  • Zo heerlijk rustig
  • Daar is de orgelman
  • In een rijtuigie
  • Doe het doek maar dicht


Albums noted in the Dutch Album Top 20/50/100

TitleRelease dateEntrance dateHighest positionWeeksComments
Wim Sonneveld, Willem Nijholt & Corry van Gorp16-10-197197with Willem Nijholt and Corry van Gorp
Muziek mozaïek, 10 maart 1974 (Recording of Duys' radio show)30-3-1974111with Willem Duys
Complete discografie5-10-19742416
De beste van Wim Sonneveld9-11-1974711
Het beste van Wim Sonneveld24-2-19792421
Een herinnering aan Wim Sonneveld2-11-19855013
Haal het doek maar op21-5-1994395
Voor altijd10-4-1999329
Op de plaat - De complete reeks31-10-201546

Singles noted in the Dutch Top 40

TitleRelease dateEntrance dateHighest positionWeeksComments
Frater Venantius16-1-19651015
Tearoom tango26-3-19661112
De kat van Ome Willem2-3-1968210
Mooi Amsterdam23-3-1968tipwith Willy Alberti
In een rijtuigje23-3-1968126with Leen Jongewaard
Het dorp18-5-1974275

Wim Sonneveld Award

Every year since 1988 the Wim Sonneveld Award has been awarded to the most talented performer in cabaret and related arts on the Amsterdams kleinkunstfestival.


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