Connie Converse

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Connie Converse
Converse during her music career in the 1950s
Elizabeth Eaton Converse

(1924-08-03)August 3, 1924
DisappearedAugust 1974 (age 50)
Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.
StatusMissing for 49 years, 8 months and 17 days
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, guitarist, composer, secretary, managing editor
Musical career
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, piano
Years activeEarly 1950s–1974
LabelsSquirrel Thing Recordings
WebsiteConnie Converse

Elizabeth Eaton Converse (born August 3, 1924 – disappeared August 1974) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, best known under her professional name Connie Converse. She was active in New York City in the 1950s, and her work is among the earliest known recordings in the singer-songwriter genre of music. Before and after the period in which she wrote her music she was an academic, writer, assistant editor for the Far Eastern Survey (IPR, New York) and editor for the Journal of Conflict Resolution (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).

In 1974, Converse left her family home in search of a new life and was not seen or heard from again. Despite the obscurity of her music during her lifetime, her work gained posthumous recognition after it was featured on a 2004 radio show. In March 2009, a compilation album of her work, How Sad, How Lovely, was released.


Early life[edit]

Converse was born in Laconia, New Hampshire, on August 3, 1924.[1] She was raised in Concord, New Hampshire, 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. Her elder brother by three years was Paul Converse and her younger brother by five years, Philip Converse, became a prominent political scientist.[1][2]

Converse attended Concord High School, where she was valedictorian and won eight academic awards,[3] including an academic scholarship to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. After two years' study, she left Mount Holyoke and moved to New York City.[4]


During the 1950s, Converse worked for the Academy Photo Offset printing house in New York's Flatiron District. She first lived in Greenwich Village, then in the Hell's Kitchen and Harlem areas.[5] 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.[4] She began smoking during this time and started drinking, behaviors strongly contrary to her religious upbringing.[4] Possibly as a result, her parents rejected her music career. It was thought that her father never heard her sing before his death,[4] but a tape recording of a family visit in 1952 reveals that Converse sang a couple of songs for her father and mother in her apartment in Grove Street, New York.[6]

In 1954, Converse was encouraged by a friend to perform at a music salon hosted by graphic artist and audio enthusiast Gene Deitch, who recorded the performance.[1] Converse's only known public performance was a brief television appearance in 1954 on The Morning Show on CBS with Walter Cronkite, which Deitch had helped to arrange.[4] In 1956, she recorded an album for her brother, Phil, titled Musicks (Volumes I and II).[2] By 1961, Converse had grown frustrated trying to sell her music in New York. That year, she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her brother Philip was a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. Converse worked in a secretarial job, and then as a writer for and managing editor of the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1963.[7][4]

Personal life[edit]

Converse was very 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 Philip have said it is possible she might have been a lesbian, although she never confirmed or denied this notion.[8][4] Her nephew, Tim Converse, has said there is no evidence that she was ever involved in a romantic relationship.[8] Her family noted that Connie relied more heavily on smoking and drinking towards the end of her time living in Michigan.[8][4]


By 1973, Converse was burnt out and depressed. The offices of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, which meant so much to her, had moved to Yale at the end of 1972 after being "auctioned off" without her knowledge. Converse's colleagues and friends pooled their money to give her a six-month trip to England in hopes of improving her mood, to no avail.[4][9] Her mother requested that she join her on a trip to Alaska, and Converse grudgingly agreed. Her displeasure with the trip appeared to have contributed to her decision to disappear. Around that time, Converse was told by doctors that she needed a hysterectomy, and the information appeared to have devastated her.[4]

In August 1974, days after her 50th birthday,[10] Converse wrote a series of letters to family and friends suggesting her intention to make a new life in New York City. All were handwritten, according to author Howard Fishman who wrote the biography of her life in a book titled after the only letter Connie Converse typed and left behind in her filing cabinet:

TO ANYONE WHO EVER ASKS: (If I'm Long Unheard From)

This is the thin hard sublayer under all the parting messages I'm likely to have sent: let me go, let me be if I can, let me not be if I can't. For a number of years now I've been the object of affectionate concern to my relatives and many friends in Ann Arbor; have received not just financial but spiritual support from them; have made a number of efforts, in this benign situation to get a new toe-hold on the lively world. Have failed.

...In the months after I got back from my desperate flight to England I began to realize that my new personal incapabilities were still stubbornly handing in. I did fight; but they hung in.

...To survive it all, I expect I must drift back down through the other half of the twentieth twentieth, which I already know pretty well, to the hundreth twentieth, which I have only heard about. I might survive there quite a few years—who knows? But you understand I have to do it with no benign umbrella. Human society fascinates me & awes me & fills me with grief & joy; I just can't find my place to plug into it.

So let me go, please; and please accept my thanks for those happy times...I am in everyone's debt.[9]

In a different letter to Philip, Converse included a check and a request 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.[8]

Converse 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.[4] The events of her life following her disappearance remain unknown. Several years after she 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.[4] 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.[5] After that, her family respected her decision to leave, and ceased looking for her.[5]


Converse spent many years after being a performer as an activist writing memos like Converse's "FEDD" Memo Against Racism and publishing her thoughts on HUAC.

Around 1968-69, Connie Converse wrote a memo as a white member of People Against Racism (PAD). Written as a seven-and-a-half page memo under the heading "AN EXPERIMENT TOWARD 'IDEOLOGICAL' CONSULTATION" outlined in five sections lettered A to E.[11] Section A covered the "Basics" such as "Me and My goals" and strategies like "There is probably no one 'correct method' of combating white racism. Neither racism nor society itself is that simple."[12] Section B was an expansion on the basics. Section C defined what "FEDD" stood for: "I am coming to realize that the essence of racism is a 'frozen' pattern of exploitative domination/dependence between persons and between groups."[13]

The overall memo reads like a manifesto to eliminate white racism and confront the structural or institutional oppressive forces that "perpetuate the status of black people as perennial losers in my society."[12]

Connie Converse's written thoughts resound as an antiracist ally ahead of her time with anti-capitalist articulations about the "psychological wages of whiteness"[14] as W.E.B. DuBois had written about in Black Reconstruction In America and as practiced in Undoing Racism workshops by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond.

In a 2023 New York Times article framing Converse as a hidden figure akin to Bob Dylan, biographer Howard Fishman wrote, "Ms. Converse lost her job when the institute landed in the cross hairs of the anti-Communist House Un-American Activities Committee."[15] In Fishman's biography of Converse, To Anyone Who Ever Asks (2023), her published thoughts are recorded on the witch hunt that followed and targeted her colleagues, including Owen Lattimore, editor of the Journal for Conflict Resolution, whom Joseph McCarthy accused of being "the top Soviet agent in North America."[16] Fishman quoting Converse writes:

We have become a nation of awful paradox: hysteria inlaid with unconcern, literacy woven with misconception, democracy wrapped up in tyranny, boldness nailed down by fear. I have no doubt of the outcome, but I dread the interval.[17]


In January 2004, Deitch—by then 80 years old and having lived in Prague since 1959—was invited by New York music historian David Garland to appear on his WNYC radio show Spinning on Air.[18] Deitch played some of the recordings of Converse he had made on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, including her song, "One by One".[10] Two of Garland's listeners, Dan Dzula and David Herman, were inspired to track down any additional recordings of Converse.[5] They found two sources for Converse's music: Deitch's collection in Prague, and a filing cabinet in Ann Arbor containing recordings which Converse had sent to Philip in the late 1950s.[19] In March 2009, How Sad, How Lovely, containing 17 songs by Converse, was released by Lau Derette Recordings.[20] That same month, Spinning on Air broadcast an hour-long special about Converse's life and music. Garland also explored the mystery surrounding her disappearance with recordings from Philip Converse and readings of her letters by actress Amber Benson.[21]

In 2015, How Sad, How Lovely was released as an 18-track vinyl recording by Squirrel Thing Recordings, in partnership with the Captured Tracks label.[22] 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'."[23] 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."[19]

Apart from her 1954 appearance on The Morning Show; cabaret performances by singer Annette Warren, who featured Converse’s songs "The Playboy of the Western World" and "The Witch and the Wizard" in her act for decades;[24] 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.[25] Since the 2009 release of her album, however, Converse's life and music have been the subject of news reports around the world.[19][26][27] 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.[10][21][26][19][28] According to 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."[29] 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.[3]

Converse's life and music have served as the inspiration for numerous contemporary artworks, including a play by Howard Fishman, who also produced the album Connie's Piano Songs featuring music written but never recorded by Converse.[30] Fishman also published a biography of Converse in 2023 titled To Anyone Who Ever Asks.[31] 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 2012 Spinning on Air 25th-anniversary special.[10][32][33]

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 performers including Mike Patton, Petra Haden, Karen O, and Laurie Anderson.[34] "Memories of Winter", the final track on Canadian singer-songwriter Dana Gavanski's 2020 debut album Yesterday Is Gone, is an homage to Converse.[35] Talking Like Her, a feature documentary first broadcast by SVT in 2021 explored the life, music, and disappearance of Converse.[36] Directed by Natacha Giler and Adam Briscoe, the film has been screened at numerous festivals worldwide and has received positive reviews.[37][38][36]

Classical singer Julia Bullock sang Converse's "One by One" on her album Walking in the Dark, which takes its title from that song.[39] Walking in the Dark won Best Classical Solo Vocal Album at the 66th Grammy Awards.[40]


Tribute albums:

  • Connie's Piano Songs (2014) (written by Converse; performed by others)
  • Vanity of Vanities: A Tribute to Connie Converse (2017) (written by Converse)


  • Converse, Elizabeth (1949). "Administrative Merger for Papua and New Guinea". Far Eastern Survey. 18 (11). Institute of Pacific Relations: 129. doi:10.2307/3024249. JSTOR 3024249.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1949). "The United States as Trustee--I". Far Eastern Survey. 18 (22). Institute of Pacific Relations: 260–263. doi:10.2307/3023713. JSTOR 3023713.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1949). "The United States as Trustee--II". Far Eastern Survey. 18 (24). Institute of Pacific Relations: 277–283. doi:10.2307/3023734. JSTOR 3023734.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1949). "Formosa: Private Citadel?". Far Eastern Survey. 18 (21). Institute of Pacific Relations: 249–250. doi:10.2307/3024156. JSTOR 3024156.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1951). "Pilot Development Projects in India". Far Eastern Survey. 20 (3). Institute of Pacific Relations: 21–27. doi:10.2307/3024397. JSTOR 3024397.
  • Keeffe, Emily C; Converse, Elizabeth (1952). The Japanese leaders program of the Department of the Army; an evaluative report of the program and its conduct by the Institute of International Education, 1950-1951 (Report). New York, N.Y.: Institute of International Education. OCLC 4822683.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1972). "A posteditorial". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 16: 617–619.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1968). "The war of all against all: A review of The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1957–1968". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 12: 471–532.
  • Kodama, Gentarō (1945). "The Kodama report translation of Japanese plan for aggression, 1902" (Document). Translated by Elizabeth, Converse. Institute of Pacific Relations American Council. (The document is a translation to English of the so-called Kodama report as it was published in the French newspaper l'Echo de Paris in three parts on 10, 11 and 12 January 1905[43] with an introduction and separate responses. The report and the translation is discussed in: Kerr, George (1945). "Kodama Report: Plan for Conquest". Far Eastern Survey. 14 (14). Institute of Pacific Relations: 185–190. doi:10.2307/3021570. JSTOR 3021570.
  • Converse, Elizabeth; Kelman, Herbert C.; Vandenberg, Edward L. (1966). "Alternative perspectives on Vietnam : report on an international conference". Alternative perspectives on Vietnam : report on an international conference. Alternative perspectives on Vietnam, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, September 13-17 1965. Ithaca, N.Y.: Inter-University Committee for Debate on Foreign Policy. OCLC 2464412.
  • Converse, Elizabeth (1969). Domestic and Foreign Conflicts of England, 1350-1950 (PDF) (Technical report). Center for Research on Conflict Resolution. Retrieved January 3, 2024.
  • Converse, Jean M.; Schuman, Howard (1974). Conversations at Random: Survey Research as Interviewers See it. Illustrations by Elizabeth E. Converse. Wiley. ISBN 9780471168690.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fishman, Howard (2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The life, music, and mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. ISBN 9780593187364.


  1. ^ a b c "Connie Converse's Time Has Come". The New Yorker. November 21, 2016. Retrieved July 14, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Jefferson, Cord. "The Story of Connie Converse". The Awl.
  3. ^ a b Vigil, Delfin (March 8, 2009). "The musical mystery of Connie Converse". SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Jefferson, Cord (August 3, 2010). "The Story of Connie Converse". The Awl. Archived from the original on June 16, 2013. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d Anderson, L.V. (December 2, 2011). "The Connie Converse Double Album That Never Got Crowd-Funded". The Awl. Archived from the original on September 9, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  6. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 2, 2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. pp. 199–211. ISBN 978-0-593-18736-4.
  7. ^ Converse, Elizabeth (January 1, 1968). "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. doi:10.1177/002200276801200404. JSTOR 173462. S2CID 145911704.
  8. ^ a b c d We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary, directed by Andrea Kannes.
  9. ^ a b Fishman, Howard (2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. pp. 385–386. ISBN 9780593187364. Retrieved September 24, 2023. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  10. ^ a b c d Youngs, Ian (October 1, 2014). "Connie Converse: The mystery of the original singer-songwriter". BBC News. Archived from the original on October 28, 2019. Retrieved October 16, 2021.
  11. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 2, 2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. pp. 467–474. ISBN 978-0-593-18736-4.
  12. ^ a b Fishman, Howard (May 2, 2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. p. 470. ISBN 978-0-593-18736-4.
  13. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 2, 2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. p. 472. ISBN 978-0-593-18736-4.
  14. ^ Reed, Adolph. "Du Bois and the "Wages of Whiteness": What He Meant, What He Didn't, and, Besides, It Shouldn't Matter for Our Politics Anyway". Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  15. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 6, 2023). "Before Dylan, There Was Connie Converse. Then She Vanished". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 24, 2023.
  16. ^ The IPR was investigated by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), Chaired by Senator Pat McCarran, a close ally of McCarthy. See: Institute of Pacific Relations : hearings before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee To Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws, Subcommittee Investigating the Institute of Pacific Relations, Eighty-Second Congress, first session, part 1. (1951)
  17. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 2, 2023). To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse. Dutton. p. 188. ISBN 978-0-593-18736-4.
  18. ^ Garland, David (March 15, 2009). "Background: the Deitch Connection". Spinning on Air. WNYC. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  19. ^ a b c d Forster, Robert (June 2009). "Lost Women Found". The Monthly: Australian Politics, Society & Culture. Australia. The Monthly. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  20. ^ Sachs, Tony (April 10, 2009). "50 Years Late, Connie Converse Is Music's Next Big Thing". HuffPost Entertainment. Huffington Post. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  21. ^ a b Garland, David (March 15, 2009). "Connie Converse Walking In the Dark". Spinning on Air. WNYC. Archived from the original on August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  22. ^ "How Sad, How Lovely". Captured Tracks. May 14, 2015. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Roberts, Randall (February 13, 2009). "Throwbacks: Vinyl and digital reissues of note for winter-spring 2015". Los Angeles Times Entertainment & Arts. Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on June 22, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  24. ^ Fishman, Howard (May 7, 2023). "Exploring the Mystery of the 'Female Bob Dylan'". The New York Times. p. 10.
  25. ^ "Elias Arts and LauDerette Recordings Restore and Release Music from 50s Singer Connie Converse" (Press release). Broadcast Newsroom. April 28, 2009. Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  26. ^ a b Pablo Hernández Blanco (October 2014). "Vine, canté, desaparecí". Jotdown. Archived from the original on June 28, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  27. ^ Broquet, Julien (June 22, 2015). "L'album de la semaine: Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely". Focus Vif. France. Focus. Archived from the original on July 17, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  28. ^ McEneaney, Andrea. "5 Reasons Connie Converse is the Most Interesting Female Musician You've Never Heard Of". Rebeat Mag. Archived from the original on July 25, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  29. ^ Garland, David (April 24, 2009). "A Lost Singer's Music, Finally Found". Song of the Day. NPR. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  30. ^ "Liner Notes — Connie's Piano Songs". August 3, 1924. Archived from the original on April 15, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  31. ^ Sturges, Fiona (May 19, 2023). "Lost in music". The Guardian Weekly. p. 57.
  32. ^ Seibert, Brian (May 4, 2015). "Review: Barnard/Columbia Dances at the Miller Theater". New York Times Arts. The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 4, 2021. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  33. ^ "Spinning On Air in The Greene Space with Yoko Ono, John Zorn, and others". Spinning on Air. WNYC. December 12, 2012. Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  34. ^ "Welcome to Tzadik". Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  35. ^ "Track by Track: Dana Gavanski on debut album Yesterday is Gone". God Is in The TV. March 2, 2020. Archived from the original on July 2, 2020. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  36. ^ a b "Talking Like Her". Taskovski Films. July 1, 2022. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  37. ^ Gorin, Grancois (September 15, 2021). "Musical Écran à Bordeaux, un festival du docu musical étonnamment voyageur". Telerama. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  38. ^ Sebastianelli, Antonio (June 4, 2021). "Talking Like Her – In the footsteps of Connie Converse". Birdmen. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  39. ^ Huizenga, Tom (December 9, 2022). "With a bold debut album, Julia Bullock curates an unconventional career". WWFM. Retrieved February 5, 2024.
  40. ^ Salazar, Francisco (February 4, 2024). "Metropolitan Opera & Julia Bullock Lead Classical Grammy Awards". OperaWire. Retrieved February 5, 2024.
  41. ^ "Sad Lady EP, by Connie Converse". Connie Converse. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  42. ^ Peralta, Eyder (August 6, 2023). "The mysterious story of Connie Converse, the singer-songwriter who vanished". Weekend Edition. NPR. Retrieved August 6, 2023.
  43. ^,,

External links[edit]