The story of Connie Converse is one that’s hard to swallow. Converse, a much overlooked yet extremely talented 1950s New York singer songwriter, disappeared in 1974 after writing goodbye letters to her friends and family. To this day, no one knows where she is or even if she’s alive.
If it wasn’t for the recordings by upstate New York music engineer Gene Deitch, Converse might have been lost and forgotten. Deitch, who also recorded folks like Pete Seegar, taped Converse in his kitchen in the mid-1950s. Soon after, he booked her on Walter Cronkite’s “The Morning Show” on CBS, but she never gained any commercial appeal. By the mid 70s, a depressed Converse disappeared “to start a new life somewhere” and was never heard from again. Years later, Deitch was interviewed in a 2004 broadcast of WNYC’s Spinning on Air with David Garland and played one of Converse’s songs, compelling some connected and abled listeners to build an album of her recordings. How Sad, How Lovely (Amazon MP3 & Spotify) was released five years later in 2009 and was the only album by Converse to see the light of day. That year, Deitch again appeared on WNYC to dive deep Converse’s story and music.
This Wednesday, my friend and “Brooklyn Orleans” jazz/folk/bluegrass/roots musician Howard Fishman will dedicate a set to Converse at Joe’s Pub, playing her songs accompanied by a few other performers. Over the weekend, I emailed with Fishman about why he chose to center his latest project on Converse and what we can expect the show to be like. Here’s what he said:
“I think it’s more accurate to say that Connie chose me, and not the other way around. Once I became aware of her music, I couldn’t stop listening to it, and wanting to know more about the person behind it…I tracked down people who knew her via phone and email, I began a voluminous correspondence with her brother and sister-in-law (that resulted in my going to visit them in Michigan and spending time with Connie’s letters and diaries), I became obsessed. I think she deserves a place at the table with the great 20th century songwriters, and I think her story is a mirror for us to look in as Americans as far what we value, how we define success, and how we treat “outsiders” in our midst.
The songs we perform in the show are relatively faithful to the originals, with some explorations here and there. My trio is the house band, and I take turns singing the songs with four other, very different, female singers: Anastasia Barzee, Charlotte Mundy, Susan Oetgen and Jean Rohe. Some of the songs we’re performing have never been heard before.”
Tickets for the show are still available.