|Birth name||Elizabeth Eaton Converse|
August 3, 1924|
Laconia, New Hampshire, United States
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, guitarist, composer|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, piano|
|Labels||Squirrel Thing Recordings|
|Status||Missing for 44 years, 1 month and 13 days|
Elizabeth Eaton "Connie" Converse (born August 3, 1924 - disappeared 1974) was an American musician active in New York City in the 1950s. Her work is among the earliest-known recordings of the singer-songwriter genre of music.
Converse left her family home in 1974 in search of a new life and was never heard from again. Her music was largely unknown until it was featured on a 2004 radio show, and released on the album How Sad, How Lovely in March 2009.
Converse was born in Laconia, New Hampshire in 1924. She grew up in Concord as the middle child in a strict Baptist family. Her father was a minister and her mother was "musical", according to music historian David Garland. She attended Concord High School, where she was valedictorian and won eight academic awards including an academic scholarship to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. After two years' study, she left Mount Holyoke and moved to New York City.
During the 1950s, Converse worked for the Academy Photo Offset printing house in New York's Flatiron District. She initially lived in Greenwich Village, but would later take up residency in the Hell's Kitchen and Harlem areas. She started calling herself Connie, a nickname she had acquired in New York. She began writing songs and performing them for friends, accompanying herself on guitar. During this time, she adopted smoking and drinking habits, which starkly went against her strict Baptist upbringing; her still-religious parents rejected her music career, and her father died without having heard a single one of Connie's songs.
Converse's only known public performance was a brief television appearance in 1954 on The Morning Show on CBS with Walter Cronkite, which artist Gene Deitch helped to arrange. By 1961 (the same year that Bob Dylan moved to Greenwich Village and quickly met mainstream success), Converse had grown frustrated trying to sell her music in New York. That year, she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her brother Philip Converse was a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. She worked in a secretarial job, and then as a writer for and Managing Editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1963. Following her move to the Midwest, Converse appears to have mostly ceased writing new songs.
Converse was extremely private about her personal life. According to Deitch, she would respond to questions about her personal life with curt "yes" or "no" answers. Both Deitch and Connie's brother Phil have said it's possible she might have been gay, although she never confirmed or denied this notion. Her nephew, Tim Converse, has said that there was no evidence of Connie ever having been in a romantic relationship throughout her entire life. Her family also noted that Connie relied more and more heavily on alcohol and cigarettes towards the end of her time living in Michigan.
By 1973, Converse was burnt out and depressed. The offices of The Journal of Conflict Resolution, which meant so much to her, left Michigan for Yale at the end of 1972, after being "auctioned off" without her knowledge. Her colleagues and friends pooled their money to finance a six-month trip to England for her in hopes of improving her mood, to no avail. Connie's mother requested that she join her on a trip to Alaska, and Connie begrudgingly agreed. Her displeasure with the trip appears to have contributed to her decision to disappear. Around this same time, Converse was told by doctors that she needed a hysterectomy, and the information appears to have devastated the musician.
In August 1974, she wrote a series of letters to her family and friends, in which she mentioned her intention to make a new life somewhere else. In one of the letters, she wrote "Let me go. Let me be if I can. Let me not be if I can’t. [...] Human society fascinates me & awes me & fills me with grief & joy; I just can't find my place to plug into it." With her letter to Philip, Connie included a check, and requested that he make sure that her health insurance was paid for and in good standing for a certain amount of time following her departure, but for him to cease paying the policy on a certain date.
She was expected to go on an annual family trip to a lake, but by the time the letters were delivered, she had packed her belongings in her Volkswagen Beetle and driven away, never to be heard from again. The events of her life following her disappearance remain unknown. Several years after Connie left, someone told her brother Philip that they had seen a phone book listing for "Elizabeth Converse" in either Kansas or Oklahoma, but he never pursued the lead. About ten years after she disappeared, the family hired a private investigator in hopes of finding her. The investigator told the family, however, that even if he did find her, it was her right to disappear, and he could not simply bring her back. Since that time, her family respected her decision to leave, and ceased looking for her. Philip suspects she may have taken her own life—he specifically thinks she may have driven her car into a body of water—but her actual fate remains unknown.
In January 2004, Gene Deitch—by then 80 years old and living in Prague since 1959—was invited by New York music historian David Garland to appear on his WNYC radio show Spinning on Air. Deitch played some of the recordings of Converse he made on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, including her song, "One by One". Two of Garland's listeners, Dan Dzula and David Herman, were inspired to track down any additional recordings of Converse. They found two sources for Converse's music: Deitch's collection in Prague, and a filing cabinet in Ann Arbor containing recordings Converse had sent to her brother, Philip, in the late 1950s. In March 2009, How Sad, How Lovely, containing 17 songs by Converse, was released by Lau derette Recordings. That same month, WNYC's Spinning on Air broadcast an hour-long special about the life and music of Converse. The show's host, David Garland, also explored the mystery surrounding Converse's disappearance with recordings from Converse's brother, Philip Converse, and readings of her letters by actor Amber Benson.
In 2015, How Sad, How Lovely was released as an 18 track vinyl by Squirrel Thing Recordings in partnership with the Captured Tracks label. The album has received favorable reviews, including by Los Angeles Times music critic Randall Roberts, who wrote “Few reissues of the past decade have struck me with more continued, joyous affection as ‘How Sad, How Lovely’.” The Australian singer-songwriter Robert Forster describes the album as "making a deep and marvelous connection between lyric and song that allows us to enter the world of an extraordinary woman living in mid-twentieth-century New York."
Apart from her 1954 appearance on The Morning Show, hosted by Walter Cronkite, and a performance of her music in 1961 by folksinger Susan Reed at the Kaufmann Concert Hall in New York, Converse's music was not available to the public until it resurfaced in 2004. Since the 2009 release of her album, however, Converse's life and music have been the subject of news reports around the world. In addition to the mystery surrounding her disappearance, many of these articles focus on the content and style of Converse's music—and the possibility that she may be the earliest performer in the singer-songwriter genre. According to music historian David Garland, "Converse wrote and sang back in the 1950s, long before singer-songwriter was a recognized category or style. But everything we value in singer-songwriters today—personal perspective, insight, originality, empathy, intelligence, wry humor—was abundant in her music." Others cite the feminine experience often explored in her lyrics, as well as the themes of sexuality and individualism found in her songs as the reason Converse's music was ahead of its time.
Converse's life and music have served as the inspiration for numerous contemporary artistic works, including a play by Howard Fishman, who also produced the album Connie's Piano Songs featuring music written, but never recorded by Connie Converse. Other works inspired by Converse include the modern dance piece "Empty Pockets" by John Heginbotham, which was performed at the Miller Theater in 2015, British singer Nat Johnson's "Roving Woman" tribute performances, as well as tribute performances of Converse's music by Jean Rohe and Diane Cluck as part of the "Spinning on Air" 25th-anniversary special.
In 2017, John Zorn's Tzadik Records released the album Vanity of Vanities: A Tribute to Connie Converse, featuring new recordings of her songs by a wide array of performers including Mike Patton, Karen O and Laurie Anderson.
- How Sad, How Lovely (2009)
- How Sad, How Lovely (2015)
- Connie's Piano Songs (2014) (written by)
- Converse, Elizabeth, "A Posteditorial", Journal of Conflict Resolution 16 (1972), 617-619.
- Converse, Elizabeth, "The War of All against All: A review of The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1957-1968", Journal of Conflict Resolution 12 (1968), 471-532.
- Ian Youngs (1 October 2014). "Connie Converse: The mystery of the original singer-songwriter". BBC News. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Vigil, Delfin (8 March 2009). "The musical mystery of Connie Converse". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Jefferson, Cord (August 3, 2010). "The Story of Connie Converse". The Awl. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
- Anderson, L.V. (2 December 2011). "The Connie Converse Double Album That Never Got Crowd-Funded". The Awl. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Converse, Elizabeth (1968-01-01). "The War of All against All: A Review of The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1957-1968". The Journal of Conflict Resolution. 12 (4): 471–532. JSTOR 173462.
- We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary, directed by Andrea Kannes.
- Garland, David (15 March 2009). "Background: the Deitch Connection". Spinning on Air. WNYC. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Youngs, Ian (October 1, 2014). "Connie Converse: The mystery of the original singer-songwriter". Entertainment & Arts. BBC News. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
- Forster, Robert (June 2009). "Lost Women Found". The Monthly: Australian Politics, Society & Culture. Australia. The Monthly. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Sachs, Tony (10 April 2009). "50 Years Late, Connie Converse Is Music's Next Big Thing". HuffPost Entertainment. Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Garland, David (15 March 2009). "Connie Converse Walking In the Dark". Spinning on Air. WNYC. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- "How Sad, How Lovely". Captured Tracks. 14 May 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Roberts, Randall (13 February 2009). "Throwbacks: Vinyl and digital reissues of note for winter-spring 2015". Los Angeles Times Entertainment & Arts. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Forster, Robert, "Lost Women Found", The Monthly June 2009, 60-64.
- "Elias Arts and LauDerette Recordings Restore and Release Music from 50s Singer Connie Converse" (Press release). Broadcast Newsroom. 28 April 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Pablo Hernández Blanco (October 2014). "Vine, canté, desaparecí". Jotdown. Retrieved 9 August 2015.
- Broquet, Julien (22 June 2015). "L'album de la semaine: Connie Converse - How Sad, How Lovely". Focus Vif. France. Focus. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Forster, Robert (2009). The Best Australian Essays 2009. Melbourne: Black Inc. p. 239. ISBN 9781863954518.
- McEneaney, Andrea. "5 Reasons Connie Converse is the Most Interesting Female Musician You've Never Heard Of". Rebeat Mag. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Garland, David (24 April 2009). "A Lost Singer's Music, Finally Found". Song of the Day. NPR. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- "Liner Notes — Connie's Piano Songs". Conniespianosongs.com. 1924-08-03. Retrieved 2015-03-17.
- Seibert, Brian (4 May 2015). "Review: Barnard/Columbia Dances at the Miller Theater". New York Times Arts. The New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- "Spinning On Air in The Greene Space with Yoko Ono, John Zorn, and others". Spinning on Air. WNYC. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- "Welcome to Tzadik". www.tzadik.com. Retrieved 2018-03-14.