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Suesse, Dana, 1909-1987



Before the age of six, Suesse studied piano and organ, and appeared in midwest vaudeville and concert stages as a pianist and dancer. Even as a child she added her own compositions to her concerts and captivated audiences with improvisations. Suesse and her mother moved to New York City in December 1926. They became active in a myriad of cultural events, and were indelibly enamored of Manhattan. Unable to sell her salon music, she experimented in the medium known as "jazz" and succeeded in composing popular songs and short instrumentals in the modern manner. In a few years she was able to comfortably support herself and her family as composer of popular tunes as well as larger works, hence the nickname "girl Gershwin" (The New Yorker, December 16, 1933). Suesse had enormous success with songs such as Have You Forgotten, Ho Hum, My Silent Love and You Oughta Be in Pictures.

Throughout the 1930s she performed her compositions in the most important entertainment venues of the east coast, including Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Boston Symphony Hall and network radio. Her works were conducted by Ferde Grofé, Arthur Fiedler, Erno Rapée, Nathaniel Shilkret, Alfred Wallenstein, Eugene Goossens, Josef Krips and most importantly, Paul Whiteman. Thanks to her association with Whiteman, she was known to radio and concert audiences as a pianist as well as a composer. She studied orchestration with Grofé and Hans Spialek, "dean" of the Broadway stage orchestrators of the period.

Naturally ambitious, she also fancied herself as a playwright. In 1947 Dana Suesse and her companion Virginia Faulkner (author of Friends and Romans) collaborated on a comedy which became known as It Takes Two, starring Martha Scott, Hugh Marlowe and Vivian Vance. Richard Aldrich and George Abbott produced it, and RKO pictures financed the show and acquired the film rights. The show was universally "panned" by the Boston and New York critics.

Suesse began studies with Nadia Boulange on October 20, 1947. With Boulange, Suesse received "...a rigorous training in harmony, counterpoint and other musical disciplines, much of which I lacked the proper training in during childhood." On October 11, 1950, Suesse returned to New York.

Nothing thrilled Suesse as much as hearing her own works in the concert hall. In her own mind she was a failure because she was known only for her "minor" program pieces (Jazz Nocturne, Blue Moonlight, American Nocturne, etc.) and her lucrative popular songs. She turned her interests toward writing more plays and musical comedies. Some were produced, such as Sally Benson's Josephine (1953) and Marcel Archard's Come Play With Me (1959). She composed the theme and all the incidental music for the original Seven Year Itch (1952), produced by her first husband, Courtney Burr.

As Suesse watched the traditional popular music scene diminish, she witnessed the increased expense and automation of the Broadway show. Like other veteran composers, she attempted writing popular music that would be accepted by a younger audience. The songs written during the Depression were still playing handsomely, but producers thought her newer songs and plays were old-fashioned. The electronic wall of rock music became too high for her to hurdle. She moved to New London, Connecticut, and married C. Edwin Delinks in 1971. It was during this marriage that she was encouraged to invest in her dormant symphonic career and produce a major concert at Carnegie Hall. In 1975, Suesse and her husband moved to the Virgin Islands where they remained until Delinks death in 1981.

Delinks death prompted Suesse's move back to Manhattan, settling at the Gramercy Park Hotel. She discovered that there was a new-found appreciation for writers of popular music. Tributes were being staged in honor of the remaining contributors to old Tin Pan Alley, among them Irving Berlin, Kay Swift and E.Y. Harburg. Interviews were done at her apartment, at symposiums, and at club meetings before her death (October 16, 1987) at the age of 77. A few months earlier, a magazine interview stated she was just "hitting her stride." Before succumbing to a stroke, she was writing a new musical, putting the finishing touches on Mr. Sycamore, which had been optioned for off-Broadway, and was looking for a New York theatre for a straight play, Nemisis.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Dana Suesse Collection

Identifier: MS-0280
Scope and Contents Dana Suesse Collection was gifted to LaBudde Special Collections by Peter Mintun in January 2015. Boxes 3-6 were later gifted to LaBudde Special Collections by Mintun in 2021. The collection relates to Suesse’s life and career, and includes promotional and publicity material, original and photocopied music, and scripts for comedies and musicals written by Suesse. Rounding out the collection are two dozen photographs that provide a concise representation of Suesse at different ages of her...
Dates: 1910s - 1980s