On twitter, Sherlock’s Molly – @LouiseBrealey – linked to a few songs by Connie Converse.
Instantly captivated, I looked up Ms Converse and found a modern day disappearance mystery.
In 1949, Elizabeth Eaton Converse shocked her family by dropping out of Mt Holyoke College to relocate to New York City. Though she was an academic wonder and had been valedictorian of her local school, her goal was to become a successful singer-songwriter. Over a decade, Elizabeth – now going by her nickname Connie – honed her song writing skills and recorded, collaborated and performed in Greenwich. Though she was an enthusiastic singer, she never gained any real traction and more frequently than not, she shared her music with friends rather than fans.
There were a few moments when it seemed as though her career prospects were about to improve. Susan Reed – one of the times top folk singers – took to her style and sang a set of her creations in 1961 at the Kaufmann Concert Hall. She was also supported and encouraged by Gene Deitch – an amateur recording engineer – who organised for her to perform with Walter Cronkite. Gene Deitch completed dozens of recordings of Connie’s music during the mid-1950’s, which never attracted any commercial interest.
Connie was unafraid to write as she felt – from an unexpectedly urbane perspective – reflecting both New York and her place in it and her complex relationship with folk music. Her songs frequently revolved around topics that were considered highly controversial during the 50’s.
Sexual frustration – from the point of view of a woman no less? Shocking.
Promiscuity? Don’t get me started!
Each song (at least, the few that I’ve heard) is a story, with lyrics infused with sarcasm and haunting honesty that is only enhanced further by her oft plaintive singing voice.
Disillusioned and jaded by the City, Connie eventually gave up on her dreams and relocated to Ann Arbour to be near her brother Philip and his family. She worked in a secretarial role and jammed with friends from time to time – her music becoming a hobby and nothing more. After a few years, Connie found herself burned out and beset with medial issues.
In 1974, Connie wrote letters to friends and family saying that she was heading out on her own and would be in touch or not as time determined. By the time these letters were received, she had loaded up her VW Beetle and disappeared. Her nephew – 16 at the time – had an idea that she might head out West but from then to now there has been no word from her.
Jump to 2004
The 80 year old Gene Deitch was invited by prominent music historian David Garland to participate in his show ‘Spinning on Air’. Deitch played a few of his own recordings including a track by Connie Converse entitled One by One.
Dan Dzula and David Herman happened to be listening to the show. Deeply impressed by One by One, the pair dedicated themselves to tracking down as many songs as they could – primarily from Deitch and her brother Philip. They created Lau Derette Recordings and compiled a 17 track CD – So Sad, So Lovely – bringing her music to a new audience.
The fascination with her music led, naturally, perhaps inevitably to a fascination with the lady behind the track. Dzula and Herman have attempted to track down Connie. Her family have hired private investigators to no avail.
The most likely theory – based on her behaviour at the time and from the letters she left behind – is that she was suffering from depression and likely took her own life. As her social security number remains active (or however these things work); her body has either not been recovered, or was not identified as Connie. This is the viewpoint her family tends to take.
In the absence of any follow up information, I choose to think differently though.
In my minds eye, Ms Converse is well; living a new and utterly unexpected life. Her home overlooks the sea (because this is *my* fantasy) and her career or work life has left her fulfilled her down to the tips of the toes.
Perhaps she’s a poet – still using language to reflect her vision of the world. At 88 years, she might even be aware that her music is finally being appreciated and heard by far more people than during her active singing years. This likely makes her happy, even though times have changed and music is just not that important to her anymore.
Perhaps, liking the mystery that has built around her name, she has decided that rather than destroy the mystic with the mundane; she’ll choose to remain anonymous. After all, it was never about the fame for her. She just wanted to share her songs.
Perhaps – from time to time – she’ll raise a glass from to Dzula, Herman, her brother Philip and Gene Deitch, grateful that thanks to their combined efforts, her songs will live on.
Born: 3rd of August 1924
Age: 88 years
Instruments: Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Associated Acts: Gene Deitch
For more information, visit ConnieConverse.com
Listen to more songs, lovingly collected by fans Dan Dzula and David Herman
How Sad, How Lovely – 17 songs almost lost to history
Videos on YouTube