3 Dec 2017

The Mysterious Connie Converse

From New Horizons, 5:00 pm on 3 December 2017
Vanity of Vanities, cover image

Vanity of Vanities, cover image Photo: Tzadik Records

One of the most mysterious outsider figures in contemporary music was Connie Converse, considered now to be one of the first of the modern singer-songwriters.

She was born in New Hampshire in 1924. Academically inclined, with secretarial skills, she ended up in New York at the end of the '40s, where her songwriting ambition and talent emerged. Recording sessions were set up, sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in others.

In terms of the wider world in the 1950s and early 60s with Bob Dylan still firmly on the horizon, none of her music really caught fire and she left New York in 1961, retreating to the quieter Ann Arbor. Finally, in 1974, Converse packed up her life, said her farewells, and was never heard of again. Nobody knows what happened to her.

Then in 2009, a collection of the songs which she'd recorded in 1954 were released by a small New York label under the title, How Sad, How Lovely. And the cult of Connie Converse started to grow.

Now, John Zorn's Tzadik label has released a tribute album, Vanity of Vanities, with many of those songs recorded as cover versions by artists including Martha Wainwright, Mike Patton, Petra Haden, and Laurie Anderson.

Long may the singular voice of Connie Converse live.

Music Details

'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
Album title
(Label)

'That's Him' (Weill/Nash) – Kurt Weill
Tryout
(DRG)

'How Sad, How Lovely' (Converse) – Connie Converse
How Sad, How Lovely
(Squirrel Thing)

'Talkin' Like You' (Converse) – Connie Converse
How Sad, How Lovely
(Squirrel Thing)

'Talkin' Like You' (Converse) – Margaret Glaspy & Julian Lage
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)

'I Have Considered the Lilies' (Converse) – Connie Converse
How Sad, How Lovely
(Squirrel Thing)

'I Have Considered the Lilies' (Converse) – Jessica Pavone & Mary Halvorsen
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)

'Roving Woman' (Converse) – Petra Haden
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)

'There is a Vine' (Converse) – Big Thief
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)

'Man in the Sky' (Converse) – Elysian Fields
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)

'Sad Lady' (Converse) – Laurie Anderson
Vanity of Vanities
(Tzadik)