Before Dylan, There Was Connie Converse. Then She Vanished.

The singer-songwriter who disappeared when she was 50 is now having a resurgence in interest.

Before Dylan, There Was Connie Converse. Then She Vanished.

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The pioneering singer/songwriter who vanished at the age of 50 is gaining new interest.

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This is the earliest known photograph of Connie Converse in New York.


Lois Aime

May 6, 2023


Connie Converse is credited as a pioneer in what has become known today as the "singer-songwriter" era. She was making music at the dawn of a musical movement which had its roots in Greenwich Village's folk scene in the early 1960s.

Her songs were created more than a decade before, but they arrived just too late. They failed to catch on. By the time Bob Dylan was a young Bob Dylan and the sun came up, she had already left. Not just retired. She was gone from New York City and eventually from the rest of the world.

A graduate student at N.Y.U. Graduate student who heard a bootleg recording from 1954 of Ms. Converse played on WNYC. Her music finally started to receive the respect and attention that she had been denied for over 50 years.

They were both spellbound by the music. They dug out more recordings from the archives and put together the 2009 album '

How sad, how lovely

It's a collection of songs that sounds like they could have been composed today. The song has been listened to over 16 million times via Spotify.

She has been covered by many artists, including Angel Olsen, Greta Kune and Laurie Anderson. Julia Bullock is also an opera singer who has performed her songs.

Ellen Stekert told me, during my research on Ms. Converse, that she was the female Bob Dylan. She was better than him as a composer and lyricist, but didn't possess his showbiz knowledge and wasn't interested writing protest songs.

In 1975, Ms.

She was just a young singer trying to survive in the city. She sang at private parties and dinners and collected money for her performances.

She knew her songs didn't fit in with the sugary pop of the time. She wrote her brother, 'This kind of thing always makes me feel like I'm going to the dentist,' before she auditioned at Frank Loesser’s music publishing house, where she anticipated what executives would think of her songs. 'Lovely, but not commerciable.'

Ms. Converse, who had left New York in January 1961 to move to Ann Arbor, Mich. where she reinvented her self as an editor and activist, was born.

In 1974, one week after she turned 50, she vanished and was never again seen.

Ms. Converse was a New Yorker from 1945 to 60. She was incredibly private but she left behind a journal, scrapbooks, and an extensive correspondence, which provide clues as to what her Manhattan chapter was like. Here are some of her favorite neighborhoods, venues and places in the city.

After dropping out of Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, in 1944, Ms. Converse relocated to New York. She began her career at the American Institute of Pacific Relations where she wrote and edited articles on international affairs. Michael R. Anderson is a contemporary international relations scholar who called her writing and reporting "remarkable".

She lived in the Upper West Side. In an old file cabinet belonging to the widow of the photographer, she found a photo of her in Riverside Park. This is the earliest known image of Ms. Converse.

Ms. Converse (left) plays at the Lincoln Arcade for her friends.


Lois Aime

The Lincoln Arcade is a bohemian building located on Broadway, between West 65th Street and 66th street. Some of Ms. Converse’s closest friends lived there and were often seen in the area. It was known as a refuge for struggling artists and had housed the painters Robert Henri Thomas Hart Benton George Bellows. The last had also lived with Eugene O'Neill.

The group was known for its hard drinking and tendency to hold court at late hours of the night. Edwin Bock told me about Ms. Converse, who would be typing away on her typewriter at a distance from the others. However, she also did some things that he found shocking. For example, she would climb out of the front window at night to stand several stories up.

Photos from Ms. Converse’s scrapbook show the studio apartment she had at 23, Grove Street where she wrote most of her guitar song catalog.


The Musick Group Heroic Cities LLC

Ms. Converse's job was lost when the anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee targeted the Institute. She moved to the West Village sometime in late 1950 and began a brand new phase of life as aspiring composer and musician.

She purchased a Crestwood reel-to-reel recorder, and began recording herself singing her new songs as they were written. While living alone at 23, Grove Street, Ms. Converse composed almost all her guitar song catalog, including 'How Sad, How Lovely.'

The Village was the Left Bank of Manhattan at the time, Gay Talese said, and there were 'whiffs of future' about its permissiveness in terms of lifestyle choices. Nicholas Pileggi is a writer/producer who suggested that Ms. Converse would not have felt uncomfortable hanging out alone at her home given the address.


Former speakeasy.

Grove Press, a new book publisher, was just around the corner.

The Nut Club

Jazz musicians and more respectable performers often perform at Sheridan Square

Village Vanguard


The scrapbook of Ms. Converse shows her only live appearance: The Morning Show with Walter Cronkite. The live performance was not recorded.


The Musick Group Heroic Cities LLC

She made her only TV appearance in 1954 on 'The Morning Show,' hosted by Walter Cronkite. It is unknown how she got the gig and what music and talk she did (shows were broadcast live at the time; there are no archived footages). The program was broadcast live in the Grand Central station hall on a large screen and staged above the concourse. This allowed everyone to see the young musician's only success.

Ms. Converse had a very close relationship with her brother Phil. Ms. Converse's diary chronicled the first visit of her brother to the city. She noted that they'met as strangers at Grand Central and fell into reminiscing about oysters'.

In 1958, Ms. Converse snapped a photo of the street beneath her apartment at 138th St. W.


The Musick Group Heroic Cities LLC

In 1955, Ms. Converse moved to 605 West 138th Street in Harlem. It was a short distance from Strivers' Row. She shared a flat of three bedrooms with her brother Paul, his wife Hyla and their infant son P. Bruce. This was a 'cost-saving measure', according to Ms. Converse. The apartment was equipped with an upright piano that Ms. Converse utilised to compose an opera, (which has since been lost), and a number of settings for poets like Dylan Thomas, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and a song-cycle based on Cassandra's myth, who according to Greek mythology was cursed with the inability to understand her prophecies.

The 1956 production of "The Iceman Cometh" that Ms. Converse was a part of.


Sam Falk/The New York Times

As a theater-lover, Ms. Converse saw Jose Quintero’s 1956 revival of ‘The Iceman Cometh’, which launched the Off Broadway movement and made Jason Robards an international star. Did I mention I saw a production of "The Iceman Cometh" in the round last month? She wrote Phil and Jean in October of that year. 'I watched four and a quarter hours of O'Neill uncut, but the last fifteen minutes made me squirm in my chair.

The cabaret singer Annette Warren expressed an interest in Ms. Converse’s songs and would make two of them, ‘The Playboy of The Western World’ and ‘The Witch and the Wizard’, staples of her shows for decades.

National Recording Studios at 730 Fifth Avenue, between West 56th Street and 57th St., had only been open for a year before Ms. Converse arrived in February 1960 to make an album. The session was short, as she only recorded one or two takes for each song. Phil Converse found a reel in his basement, and it was only a rumor. A fan of Ms. Converse had arranged the free recording session. This album is the only one she ever made.

Ms. Converse at her apartment in West 88th Street.


The Musick Group Heroic Cities LLC

Ms. Converse completed the circle of her Manhattan existence, moving back to the Upper West Side. She lived this time in a brownstone at West 88th Street a half-block from Central Park. It was her last New York address. She was gone by 1961.

Her music was almost lost, as it was mostly created in solitude or small gatherings. David Garland played her music in WNYC 2004 and 2009. Dan Dzula, and David Herman were the students that introduced her music to a younger generation decades later.

"The first time I sang a Connie Converse tune to a friend she sat quietly and cried," Mr. Dzula recalled. From that moment, I knew Connie’s magic would touch at least a few people in a personal and special manner.

He continued: "Could I ever have imagined her exploding like this when she first released the album? Absolutelly not. But, also, yeah!

Howard Fishman, author of 'To anyone who ever asks: the life, music, and mystery of Connie Converse', has released a new book.