1924–1974?

Connie Converse

Connie Converse was one of the first singer-songwriters, but she toiled in obscurity, and her music didn’t become widely known until the first decade of this century. She recorded a small number of songs in the 1950s (in her small Greenwich village studio and in the home of an animator and audio enthusiast named Gene Deitch who held a kind of salon for musicians in the city), but she never found any success as a songwriter. In 1961, at the age of 36, she left New York for Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her brother and his wife lived, hoping for a new start. She gave up composing altogether, volunteered as a political activist, worked on a novel, and edited a scholarly journal on international conflict resolution for the University of Michigan.

Then, in August of 1974, only a week before her 50th birthday, she disappeared. She packed her belongings into her Volkswagen bug, wrote goodbye letters to her family, and drove off, never to be heard from again. In one letter to her brother, she wrote, “Let me go, let me be if I can, let me not be if I can’t. …  If I ever was a member of this species perhaps it was a social accident that has now been cancelled.” Did she die by suicide, or by accident? Did she continue her life in isolation and in private, completely hidden from view? No one knows, not even her brother, who died in 2014. And few people even knew Connie Converse even existed until a few years before that, when, in 2003, Gene Deitch shared some of the recordings he had made of Connie Converse, on a New York radio program. In 2009, a compilation of Converse’s lo-fi recordings from the 1950s was released on CD. And with that, Connie Converse—one of the first ever singer-songwriters, a musician of uncommon talent and originality, an artist whose music had for all intents and purposes been lost to time—was found again.

Since then she has become a kind of cult hit—and it’s not hard to see why. Her words are full of heartache, wistfulness, and humor. And her music—mingling the idioms of rural blues, country, gospel, folk, pop, jazz, parlor songs, and early jazz—is like nothing from its time.

Additional Resources

Did you know?

Connie Converse enrolled her brother and his wife in a song-of-the-month club; she sent them about three dozen self-recorded songs between 1950 and 1955, some of which appeared on the first CD of her music, How Sad, How Lovely (2014).

Video Recordings

Soprano Julia Bullock and pianist Christian Reif perform Connie Converse's "One by One," in an arrangement by pianist and composer Jeremy Siskind. The song is featured on Bullock's recent album Walking in the Dark (Nonesuch Records, 2022).

Accessing Scores

Connie Converse’s songs, alas, exist only in recorded form, and the arrangements of them are not publicly available. But anyone interested in studying her songs should consider transcribing them or arranging them for further performance.

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