Suzanne Vega

Last updated

Suzanne Vega
SuzanneVegaLebanonNH.jpg
Vega performing in Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2010
Background information
Born (1959-07-11) July 11, 1959 (age 59)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Origin New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • record producer
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1982–present
Labels
Associated acts
Website suzannevega.com

Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, best known for her eclectic folk-inspired music. [1] [2]

Folk music Music of the people

Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music may be called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles. The term originated in the 19th century, but folk music extends beyond that.

Contents

Vega's music career spans more than 30 years. She came to prominence in the mid 1980s, releasing four singles that entered the Top 40 charts in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s, including "Marlene on the Wall", "Left of Center", "Luka" and "No Cheap Thrill". "Tom's Diner," which was originally released as an a cappella recording on Vega's second album, Solitude Standing , was remixed in 1990 as a dance track by English electronic duo DNA with Vega as featured artist, and it became a Top 10 hit in over five countries. The song was used as a test during the creation of the MP3 format. [3]

"Left of Center" is a song written by Suzanne Vega and Steve Addabbo which was released as part of the soundtrack to the 1986 film Pretty in Pink. It features Joe Jackson on piano. It was released as a single and reached No. 35 in Australia, No. 28 in Ireland and No. 32 in the United Kingdom.

Luka (song) 1987 Suzanne Vega song

"Luka" is a song written and recorded by Suzanne Vega, released as a single in 1987. It remains her highest-charting hit in the United States, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Worldwide, the song charted the highest in Poland and Sweden, peaking at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, and reached the top 10 in Austria, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. Shawn Colvin sang background vocals on the record.

Toms Diner song by Suzanne Vega

"Tom's Diner" is a song written in 1982 by American singer and songwriter Suzanne Vega. It was first released as a track on the January 1984 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine. When first featured on one of her own studio albums, it appeared as the first track of her Solitude Standing album in 1987. It was later used as the basis for a remix by the British group DNA in 1988. This remix reached number 1 in Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. The 1991 compilation Tom's Album includes the DNA version as well as cover versions by such artists as After One, Nikki D and Bingo Hand Job. It was also used as the background soundtrack for the opening scene of the 1993 film Untamed Heart.

Vega has released nine studio albums to date, the latest of which is Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers , released in 2016.

<i>Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers</i> 2016 studio album by Suzanne Vega

Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers is the ninth studio album by the American singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega, which was released on October 14, 2016. The album is based on a play Carson McCullers Talks About Love about the life of the writer Carson McCullers, written and performed by Vega, which premiered in 2011.

Early life

Suzanne Nadine Vega was born on July 11, 1959, in Santa Monica, California. [4] Her mother, Pat Vega (née Schumacher), is a computer systems analyst of German-Swedish heritage. Her father, Richard Peck, is of Scottish-English-Irish origin. They divorced soon after her birth. [5] Her stepfather, Edgardo Vega Yunqué, also known as Ed Vega, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico. [6] When Vega was two and a half, her family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. [7]

Santa Monica, California City in California

Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County, California, United States. Situated on Santa Monica Bay, it is bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles – Pacific Palisades to the north, Brentwood on the northeast, West Los Angeles on the east, Mar Vista on the southeast, and Venice on the south. The Census Bureau population for Santa Monica in 2010 was 89,736.

A systems analyst is an information technology (IT) professional who specializes in analyzing, designing and implementing information systems. Systems analysts assess the suitability of information systems in terms of their intended outcomes and liaise with end users, software vendors and programmers in order to achieve these outcomes. A systems analyst is a person who uses analysis and design techniques to solve business problems using information technology. Systems analysts may serve as change agents who identify the organizational improvements needed, design systems to implement those changes, and train and motivate others to use the systems.

Edgardo Vega Yunqué American writer

Edgardo Vega Yunqué was a Puerto Rican novelist and short-story writer, who also used the Americanized pen name Ed Vega.

She was not aware of having a different biological father, Richard Peck, until she was nine years old. They met for the first time in her late 20s, and they remain in contact. [8]

She attended the High School of Performing Arts, now renamed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, where she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.

The High School of Performing Arts was a public alternative high school established in 1947 and located at 120 West 46th Street in the borough of Manhattan, New York City, from 1948 to 1984.

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School Specialized high school in New York City

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is a high school specializing in teaching visual arts and performing arts, located near Lincoln Center in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of the Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York City, in the U.S. state of New York. Located at 100 Amsterdam Avenue between West 64th and 65th Streets, the school is operated by the New York City Department of Education, and resulted from the merger of the High School of Music & Art and the School of Performing Arts. The school has a dual mission of arts and academics, preparing students for a career in the arts or conservatory study as well as a pursuit of higher education.

Modern dance

Modern dance is a broad genre of western concert or theatrical dance, primarily arising out of Germany and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Career

1980s

While majoring in English literature at Barnard College, [9] she performed in small venues in Greenwich Village, where she was a regular contributor to Jack Hardy's Monday night songwriters' group at the Cornelia Street Cafe and had some of her first songs published on Fast Folk anthology albums. [10] In 1984, she received a major label recording contract, making her one of the first Fast Folk artists to break out on a major label.

Vega's self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and was well received by critics in the U.S.; [7] it reached platinum status in the United Kingdom. Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega's acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album's song "Marlene on the Wall", which went into MTV and VH1's rotations. During this period Vega also wrote lyrics for two songs ("Lightning" and "Freezing") on Songs from Liquid Days by composer Philip Glass. [11]

Vega's song "Left of Center" co-written with Steve Addabbo for the 1986 John Hughes film Pretty in Pink reached No. 32 on the UK Singles Chart in 1986. [12]

Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success, selling over 1 million copies in the U.S. [13] It includes the international hit single Luka , which is written about, and from the point of view of, an abused child—at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements. The a cappella Tom's Diner from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. The track was originally a bootleg, until Vega allowed DNA to release it through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit.

1990s

Vega's third album, Days of Open Hand (1990), continued in the style of her first two albums.

In 1992 she released the album 99.9F° . It consists of a mixture of folk music, dance beats and industrial music. This record was awarded Gold status by the RIAA in recognition of selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. [13] The single "Blood Makes Noise" from this album peaked at number-one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks. Vega later married the album's producer Mitchell Froom.

Her fifth album, Nine Objects of Desire , was released in 1996. The music varies between a frugal, simple style and the industrial production of 99.9F°. This album contains "Caramel", featured in the movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs , and later the trailer for the movie Closer . A song not included on that album, "Woman on the Tier," was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dead Man Walking .

In 1997 she took a singing part on the concept album Heaven and Hell , a musical interpretation of the seven deadly sins by her colleague Joe Jackson, with whom she had already collaborated in 1986 on "Left of Center" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano). [14]

In 1999, Avon Books published Vega's book The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writings of Suzanne Vega, a volume of poems, lyrics, essays and journalistic pieces. [15]

2000s

Vega onstage, 2008 Suzanne Vega Barcelona 2008.jpg
Vega onstage, 2008

In September 2001, Vega released a new album entitled Songs in Red and Gray . Three songs deal with Vega's divorce from her first husband, Mitchell Froom.

At the memorial concert for her brother Tim Vega in December 2002, Vega began her role as the subject of the direct-cinema documentary, Some Journey, directed by Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films. The documentary has not been completed.

Underground hip hop duo Felt named a track on their album Felt: A Tribute to Christina Ricci released in 2002 "Suzanne Vega". [16]

In 2003, the 21-song greatest hits compilation Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega was released. (The UK version of Retrospective included an eight-song bonus CD as well as a DVD containing 12 songs.) In the same year she was invited by Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, to play at the Century of Song concerts at the famed Ruhrtriennale in Germany.

In 2003, she hosted the American Public Media radio series American Mavericks, about 20th century American composers, which received the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting. [17] [18]

On August 3, 2006, Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in the Internet-based virtual world, Second Life . The event was hosted by John Hockenberry of public radio's The Infinite Mind .

On September 17, 2006, she performed in Central Park, as part of a benefit concert for the Save Darfur Coalition. [19] During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988. [20] [21]

In early October 2006, Vega participated in the Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, the oldest festival of documentary films in Europe, in which she appeared as a main guest. She was invited there as the subject of the documentary film by director Christopher Seufert, that had a test screening at the festival. At the end of the festival she performed her classic songs and added one brand new piece called New York Is a Woman.

Vega is also interviewed in the book Everything Is Just a Bet which was published in Czech in October 2006. The book contains 12 interview transcriptions from the talk show called Stage Talks that regularly runs in the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre) in Prague. Vega introduced the book to the audience of the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre), and together with some other Czech celebrities gave a signing session.

She signed a new recording contract with Blue Note Records in the spring of 2006, and released Beauty & Crime on July 17, 2007. The album, produced by Jimmy Hogarth, won a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Her contract was not renewed and she was released in June 2008. [22]

In 2007, Vega followed the lead of numerous other mainstream artists and released her track "Pornographer's Dream" as podsafe. The song spent two weeks at number-one during 2007 and finished as the No. 11 [23] hit of the year on the PMC Top10's annual countdown. In 2015, Vega joined The 14th Annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers. [24] [25] [26] She was also a judge for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Independent Music Awards. [27]

2010s

Vega at Union Chapel, London, 2015. Improvising by using the pulpit Suzanne Vega at Union Chapel, London 2015.jpg
Vega at Union Chapel, London, 2015. Improvising by using the pulpit

A partial cover version of her song Tom's Diner was used to introduce the 2010 British movie 4.3.2.1 , with its lyrics largely rewritten to echo the plot. This musical hybrid was released as "Keep Moving". Vega participated in the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch collaboration Dark Night of the Soul . She wrote both melody and lyrics for her song, which is titled "The Man Who Played God", inspired by a biography of Pablo Picasso. Vega sang lead vocals on the song "Now I Am an Arsonist" with singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton on his 2011 album, Artificial Heart .

Vega has re-recorded her back-catalogue, [28] both for artistic and commercial (and control) reasons, [29] [30] in the Close-up series. Vol. 1 ( Love Songs ) and Vol. 2 ( People & Places ) appeared in 2010 while Vol. 3 ( States of Being ) was released in July 2011 [31] followed by Vol. 4 ( Songs of Family ) in September 2012. Volumes 2, 3 and 4 of the Close-Up albums included previously unrecorded material; Volumes 2 and 3 each included one new collaboratively written song, while Volume 4 included three songs that Vega had written years earlier, but had not previously gotten around to recording. In all, Vega's Close-Up series features 60 re-recorded songs and five new compositions, representing about three-quarters of her lifetime songwriting output.

While performing live, Vega and long-term collaborator Gerry Leonard began to introduce a number of new songs into the setlist, including the live favorite I Never Wear White. Over the course of a year, the songs were completed and recorded in a live-studio setting with the help of a number of guests. Produced by Leonard, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles was released in February 2014. [32] It was her first album of new material in seven years and became Vega's first studio album to reach the UK Top 40 since 1992, peaking at No. 37.

New album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers was released on October 14, 2016. [33] [34]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Suzanne Vega among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [35]

Songwriting

At the age of nine she began to write poetry. She was encouraged to do so by her stepfather. [36] It took her three years to write her first song, Brother Mine, which was finished at the age of 14. [37] It was first published on Close-Up Vol. 4, Songs of Family , along with her other early song, The Silver Lady. [36]

Vega has not learned to read musical notes; she sees the melody as a shape and chords as colors. She focuses on lyrics and melodic ideas; for advanced features – like intros or bridges – she relies on other artists she works with. [36] Most of her albums, except the first one, were made in such cooperation. [38]

Vega finishes 80% of the songs she starts writing. [37]

The most important artistic influences on her work come from Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Some other important artists for her are Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. [37]

Theater

Vega and Duncan Sheik wrote a play Carson McCullers Talks About Love, about the life of the writer Carson McCullers. In the play directed by Kay Matschullat, which premiered in 2011, Vega alternates between monologue and songs. [39] [40] [41] Vega and Sheik were nominated for Outstanding Music in a Play for the 57th annual Drama Desk awards. [42]

The album Lover, Beloved: Songs from an Evening with Carson McCullers , based on this play, was released in 2016. [33] [34] Vega considers it to be a third version, because it's rewritten, and she made the first version in college. [8]

Amanuensis Productions

Vega has established her own recording label after the 2008 economic crisis. From that point, she stopped working for Blue Note Records and started thinking about re-recording her back catalog with new arrangements and gaining control over her works (which she eventually did with the Close-Up Series ). [36]

The name "Amanuensis Productions" was meant as a private joke about "servant" (amanuensis) owning the "masters" (recording masters), also a pun at A&M still legally owning her previous master tapes. [38]

Running the label proved to be harder than she expected. In 2015 it just "broke even", but new licenses were coming for Tom's Diner . [43]

Personal life

On March 17, 1995, Vega married Mitchell Froom, a musician and a record producer (who played on and produced 99.9F° and Nine Objects of Desire ). They have a daughter, Ruby Froom (born July 8, 1994). The band Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom album was named for her, with Vega's approval. [44] Vega and Froom separated and divorced in 1998.

On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer and poet, "22 years after he first proposed to her." [45]

Beginning in 2010, Ruby has occasionally performed with her mother on tour. [46] [47] [48] [49]

Vega practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a member of the American branch of the worldwide Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International. [50]

Awards and nominations

YearAwardsWorkCategoryResult
1987 NME Awards HerselfBest Female SingerWon
1988 Pollstar Concert Industry AwardsSmall Hall Tour of the YearNominated
MTV Video Music Awards "Luka" Best Female Video Won
Breakthrough Video Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Grammy Awards Song of the Year Nominated
Record of the Year Nominated
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Nominated
1990 Days of Open Hand Best Contemporary Folk Recording Nominated
Best Album Package Won
1992 Billboard Music Video Awards "Blood Makes Noise"Best Pop/Rock Female VideoNominated
1993 New York Music Awards 99.9F° Best Rock AlbumWon
2003 Glamour Awards HerselfWoman of the YearWon
2004 Peabody Awards EntertainmentWon
2008 Grammy Awards Beauty & Crime Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical Won
2010 New York Music Awards Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs Best Pop/Rock CompilationWon
2012 Drama Desk Awards Carson McCullers Talks About Love Outstanding Music in a Play Nominated

Discography

Studio albums

Books

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