Suzanne Vega

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Suzanne Vega
Vega singing into a microphone onstage
Vega performing live in Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2010
Background information
Born (1959-07-11) July 11, 1959 (age 59)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • record producer
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1982–present
Labels
Associated acts
Websitesuzannevega.com

Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, best known for her eclectic folk-inspired music.[1][2]

Vega's music career spans more than 30 years. She came to prominence in the mid 1980s, releasing four singles that entered the Top 40 charts in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, including "Marlene on the Wall", "Left of Center", "Luka" and "No Cheap Thrill". "Tom's Diner," which was originally released as an a cappella recording on Vega's second album, Solitude Standing, was remixed in 1990 as a dance track by English electronic duo DNA with Vega as featured artist, and it became a Top 10 hit in over five countries. The song was used as a test during the creation of the MP3 format.[3]

Vega has released nine studio albums to date, the latest of which is Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers, released in 2016.

Early life[edit]

Suzanne Nadine Vega was born on July 11, 1959, in Santa Monica, California.[4] Her mother, Pat Vega (née Schumacher), is a computer systems analyst of German-Swedish heritage. Her father, Richard Peck, is of Scottish-English-Irish origin. They divorced soon after her birth.[5] Her stepfather, Edgardo Vega Yunqué, also known as Ed Vega, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico.[6] When Vega was two and a half, her family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side.[7]

She was not aware of having a different biological father, Richard Peck, until she was nine years old. They met for the first time in her late 20s, and they remain in contact.[8]

She attended the High School of Performing Arts, where she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.

Career[edit]

1980s[edit]

While majoring in English literature at Barnard College,[9] she performed in small venues in Greenwich Village, where she was a regular contributor to Jack Hardy's Monday night songwriters' group at the Cornelia Street Cafe and had some of her first songs published on Fast Folk anthology albums.[10] In 1984, she received a major label recording contract, making her one of the first Fast Folk artists to break out on a major label.

Vega's self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and was well received by critics in the U.S.;[7] it reached platinum status in the United Kingdom. Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega's acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album's song "Marlene on the Wall", which went into MTV and VH1's rotations. During this period Vega also wrote lyrics for two songs ("Lightning" and "Freezing") on Songs from Liquid Days by composer Philip Glass.[11]

Vega's song "Left of Center" co-written with Steve Addabbo for the 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart in 1986.[12]

Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success, selling over 1 million copies in the U.S.[13] It includes the international hit single Luka, which is written about, and from the point of view of, an abused child—at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements. The a cappella Tom's Diner from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. The track was originally a bootleg, until Vega allowed DNA to release it through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit.

1990s[edit]

Vega's third album, Days of Open Hand (1990), continued in the style of her first two albums.

In 1992 she released the album 99.9F°. It consists of a mixture of folk music, dance beats and industrial music. This record was awarded Gold status by the RIAA in recognition of selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S.[13] The single "Blood Makes Noise" from this album peaked at number-one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks. Vega later married the album's producer Mitchell Froom.

Her fifth album, Nine Objects of Desire, was released in 1996. The music varies between a frugal, simple style and the industrial production of 99.9F°. This album contains "Caramel", featured in the movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs, and later the trailer for the movie Closer. A song not included on that album, "Woman on the Tier," was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dead Man Walking.

In 1997 she took a singing part on the concept album Heaven and Hell, a musical interpretation of the seven deadly sins by her colleague Joe Jackson, with whom she had already collaborated in 1986 on "Left of Center" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano).[14]

In 1999, Avon Books published Vega's book The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writings of Suzanne Vega, a volume of poems, lyrics, essays and journalistic pieces.[15]

2000s[edit]

Vega onstage, 2008

In September 2001, Vega released a new album entitled Songs in Red and Gray. Three songs deal with Vega's divorce from her first husband, Mitchell Froom.

At the memorial concert for her brother Tim Vega in December 2002, Vega began her role as the subject of the direct-cinema documentary, Some Journey, directed by Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films. The documentary has not been completed.

Underground hip hop duo Felt named a track on their album Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci released in 2002 "Suzanne Vega".[16]

In 2003, the 21-song greatest hits compilation Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega was released. (The UK version of Retrospective included an eight-song bonus CD as well as a DVD containing 12 songs.) In the same year she was invited by Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, to play at the Century of Song concerts at the famed Ruhrtriennale in Germany.

In 2003, she hosted the American Public Media radio series American Mavericks, about 20th century American composers, which received the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting.[17][18]

On August 3, 2006, Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in the Internet-based virtual world, Second Life. The event was hosted by John Hockenberry of public radio's The Infinite Mind.

On September 17, 2006, she performed in Central Park, as part of a benefit concert for the Save Darfur Coalition.[19] During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988.[20] [21]

In early October 2006, Vega participated in the Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, the oldest festival of documentary films in Europe, in which she appeared as a main guest. She was invited there as the subject of the documentary film by director Christopher Seufert, that had a test screening at the festival. At the end of the festival she performed her classic songs and added one brand new piece called New York Is a Woman.

Vega is also interviewed in the book Everything Is Just a Bet which was published in Czech in October 2006. The book contains 12 interview transcriptions from the talk show called Stage Talks that regularly runs in the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre) in Prague. Vega introduced the book to the audience of the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre), and together with some other Czech celebrities gave a signing session.

She signed a new recording contract with Blue Note Records in the spring of 2006, and released Beauty & Crime on July 17, 2007. The album, produced by Jimmy Hogarth, won a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Her contract was not renewed and she was released in June 2008.[22]

In 2007, Vega followed the lead of numerous other mainstream artists and released her track "Pornographer's Dream" as podsafe. The song spent two weeks at number-one during 2007 and finished as the No. 11[23] hit of the year on the PMC Top10's annual countdown. In 2015, Vega joined The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.[24] [25] [26] She was also a judge for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Independent Music Awards.[27]

2010s[edit]

Vega at Union Chapel, London, 2015. Improvising by using the pulpit

A partial cover version of her song Tom's Diner was used to introduce the 2010 British movie 4.3.2.1, with its lyrics largely rewritten to echo the plot. This musical hybrid was released as "Keep Moving". Vega participated in the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch collaboration Dark Night of the Soul. She wrote both melody and lyrics for her song, which is titled "The Man Who Played God", inspired by a biography of Pablo Picasso. Vega sang lead vocals on the song "Now I Am an Arsonist" with singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton on his 2011 album, Artificial Heart.

Vega has re-recorded her back-catalogue,[28] both for artistic and commercial (and control) reasons,[29][30] in the Close-up series. Vol. 1 (Love Songs) and Vol. 2 (People & Places) appeared in 2010 while Vol. 3 (States of Being) was released in July 2011[31] followed by Vol. 4 (Songs of Family) in September 2012. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the Close-Up albums included previously unrecorded material; Volumes 2 and 3 each included one new collaboratively written song, while Volume 4 included three songs that Vega had written years earlier, but had not previously gotten around to recording. In all, Vega's Close-Up series features 60 re-recorded songs and five new compositions, representing about three-quarters of her lifetime songwriting output.

While performing live, Vega and long-term collaborator Gerry Leonard began to introduce a number of new songs into the setlist, including the live favorite I Never Wear White. Over the course of a year, the songs were completed and recorded in a live-studio setting with the help of a number of guests. Produced by Leonard, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles was released in February 2014.[32] It was her first album of new material in seven years and became Vega's first studio album to reach the UK Top 40 since 1992, peaking at No. 37.

New album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers was released on October 14, 2016.[33][34]

Songwriting[edit]

At the age of nine she began to write poetry. She was encouraged to do so by her stepfather.[35] It took her three years to write her first song, Brother Mine, which was finished at the age of 14.[36] It was first published on Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs of Family, along with her other early song, The Silver Lady.[35]

Vega has not learned to read musical notes; she sees the melody as a shape and chords as colors. She focuses on lyrics and melodic ideas; for advanced features – like intros or bridges – she relies on other artists she works with.[35] Most of her albums, except the first one, were made in such cooperation.[37]

Vega finishes 80% of the songs she starts writing.[36]

The most important artistic influences on her work come from Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Some other important artists for her are Paul Simon and Laura Nyro.[36]

Theater[edit]

Vega and Duncan Sheik wrote a play Carson McCullers Talks About Love, about the life of the writer Carson McCullers. In the play directed by Kay Matschullat, which premiered in 2011, Vega alternates between monologue and songs.[38][39][40] Vega and Sheik were nominated for Outstanding Music in a Play for the 57th annual Drama Desk awards.[41]

The album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers, based on this play, was released in 2016.[33][34] Vega considers it to be a third version, because it's rewritten, and she made the first version in college.[8]

Amanuensis Productions[edit]

Vega has established her own recording label after the 2008 economic crisis. From that point, she stopped working for Blue Note Records and started thinking about re-recording her back catalog with new arrangements and gaining control over her works (which she eventually did with the Close-Up Series).[35]

The name "Amanuensis Productions" was meant as a private joke about "servant" (amanuensis) owning the "masters" (recording masters), also a pun at A&M still legally owning her previous master tapes.[37]

Running the label proved to be harder than she expected. In 2015 it just "broke even", but new licenses were coming for Tom's Diner.[42]

Personal life[edit]

On March 17, 1995, Vega married Mitchell Froom, a musician and a record producer (who played on and produced 99.9F° and Nine Objects of Desire). They have a daughter, Ruby Froom (born July 8, 1994). The band Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom album was named for her, with Vega's approval.[43] Beginning in 2010, Ruby has occasionally performed with her mother.[44][45][46][47] Vega and Froom separated and divorced in 1998.

On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer and poet, "22 years after he first proposed to her."[48]

Vega practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a member of the American branch of the worldwide Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International.[49]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Work Category Result
1987 NME Awards Herself Best Female Singer Won
1988 Pollstar Concert Industry Awards Small Hall Tour of the Year Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards "Luka" Best Female Video Won
Breakthrough Video Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Grammy Awards Song of the Year Nominated
Record of the Year Nominated
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Nominated
1990 Days of Open Hand Best Contemporary Folk Recording Nominated
Best Album Package Won
1992 Billboard Music Video Awards "Blood Makes Noise" Best Pop/Rock Female Video Nominated
1993 New York Music Awards 99.9F° Best Rock Album Won
2003 Glamour Awards Herself Woman of the Year Won
2004 Peabody Awards Entertainment Won
2008 Grammy Awards Beauty & Crime Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical Won
2012 Drama Desk Awards Carson McCullers Talks About Love Outstanding Music in a Play Nominated

Discography[edit]

Studio albums

Books

  • The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writing of Suzanne Vega (1999) ISBN 9780380973538.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Allmusic biography: Suzanne Vega
  2. ^ BBC Four: Richard Thompson, Suzanne Vega, Loudon Wainwright
  3. ^ Sveriges Television, Hitlåtens historia: Tom's Diner – Suzanne Vega. Aired 6 February 2010. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 26, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  4. ^ Curtis, Kim (September 28, 2001), "Softer, earthier Vega releases new album", Reading Eagle, Reading Eagle Company, retrieved April 30, 2010
  5. ^ Huey, Steve, "Suzanne Vega Biography", AllMusic, Rovi Corporation, retrieved April 30, 2010
  6. ^ [1] Archived May 6, 2006, at Archive.is
  7. ^ a b "Suzanne Vega: A Life in Music". Official Community of Suzanne Vega. Archived from the original on April 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
  8. ^ a b Anthony, Andrew. "Suzanne Vega: 'It's taken me a while to say, You are what you are, it's fine'". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  9. ^ "Biography". Official Community of Suzanne Vega. Archived from the original on April 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-26.
  10. ^ Fricke, David. Suzanne Vega Album Review, Rolling Stone, July 4, 1985. Accessed June 5, 2009.
  11. ^ Holden, Stephen (April 20, 1986). "Philip Glass Turns to the Song". The New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  12. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 584. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  13. ^ a b "RIAA – Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – June 23, 2015". Riaa.com. RIAA.
  14. ^ Morse, Steve (September 5, 1997). "Stepping Out: Pop star turned classical composer, Joe Jackson takes on the Seven Deadly Sins". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz, CA. Retrieved July 12, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  15. ^ Gewertz, Daniel (February 24, 1999). "Vega has 'Eye' for passionate poetry". The Boston Herald. Boston, MA. Retrieved June 28, 2016. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  16. ^ "A Tribute To Christina Ricci". Tidal.
  17. ^ "Nuclear weapons, affirmative action works awarded". The Gettysburg Times. Gettysburg, PA. AP. April 2, 2004. Retrieved July 12, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  18. ^ "American Mavericks". Publicradio.org. American Public Media. 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  19. ^ "American Jewish World Service". Ajws.org. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  20. ^ The Official Suzanne Vega Website .::. By Suzanne: Articles, Poetry and Essays. Web.archive.org (November 11, 2006). Retrieved on 2011-05-07.
  21. ^ [2] Archived November 11, 2006, at Archive.is
  22. ^ http://www.suzannevega.com/cgi-bin/discus/show.cgi?4160/5619[dead link]
  23. ^ Doelle, Chris (January 5, 2008). "PMC Top10–010408 – Top Hits of 2007!!!". PMC Top10. Archived from the original on March 25, 2008. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  24. ^ "Independent Music Awards". Independent Music Awards. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
  25. ^ MicControl Archived May 9, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ "Top40-Charts.com". Top40-Charts.com. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
  27. ^ "Independent Music Awards – Past Judges". Independentmusicawards.com. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
  28. ^ Suzanne Vega | Brief Bio 2010 Archived January 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. Suzannevega.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-07.
  29. ^ "Suzanne Vega's Close-Up series more than meets the eye". Mbbarton.wordpress.com. March 17, 2010. Archived from the original on July 20, 2010.
  30. ^ Theo Spielberg (November 4, 2011). "Suzanne Vega Proudly Embraces Her Role as 'The Mother of the MP3'". spinner.com. Archived from the original on 2011-11-04.
  31. ^ Twitter / Suzanne Vega: Vol 3 of Close-Up coming out in July of this year – States of Being. Twitter.com. Retrieved on 2011-05-24.
  32. ^ "Ishtar Press-release Announcement headliner for the Festival Antigel in Geneva, February 15, 2014
  33. ^ a b Ayers, Mike (6 July 2016). "Hear Suzanne Vega's New Song 'We of Me' From Her Upcoming Album Inspired by Writer Carson McCullers (Exclusive)". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  34. ^ a b "Suzanne Vega Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers". Nimbit. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  35. ^ a b c d Barber, Simon and O’Connor, Brian (27 November 2013). "Episode 49 – Suzanne Vega". Sodajerker. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  36. ^ a b c Vega, Suzanne (1 October 2012). "Suzanne Vega" (Interview). Interviewed by Schlansky, Evan. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  37. ^ a b O Hillis, Dean (17 March 2015). "A Melody – A Chord – A Lyric: A Conversation with Suzanne Vega". SLUG Magazine. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  38. ^ Alan Light (April 27, 2011). "Suzanne Vega's 'Carson McCullers Talks About Love'". NYTimes.com. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  39. ^ Charles Isherwood (May 5, 2011). "The Alienated Souls Whisperer". NYTimes.com. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  40. ^ Dan Bacalzo (May 6, 2011). "Carson McCullers Talks About Love". Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  41. ^ "2012 Nominees – 57th Annual Drama Desk Awards". Dramadeskawards.com. Archived from the original on August 16, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  42. ^ Deeks, Russell (14 May 2015). "Interview: Suzanne Vega". Songwriting. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  43. ^ "Fun Facts Music". Official Community of Suzanne Vega. Archived from the original on May 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-22.
  44. ^ "Suzanne Vega and Ruby Froom at the City Winery 06-May-2010".
  45. ^ "Mother & Daughter Vega".
  46. ^ "Ruby singing with me tonight". January 8, 2011.
  47. ^ "Suzanne Vega and Ruby Froom at Joe's Pub in NYC on November 14, 2014".
  48. ^ "The Official Suzanne Vega website". Suzanne Vega. May 6, 2006. Archived from the original on January 30, 2012. Retrieved 2010-12-22.
  49. ^ "SGI-USA Members in New York Celebrate Spring". Soka Gakkai International. February 2008. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved October 19, 2013.

External links[edit]