Connie Converse’s Feminism and Musical Resurgence
By Sarah Liss
Connie Converse, a woman whose mysterious disappearance and music career was practically unknown, has only recently gained a wide audience. After dropping out of college, Converse moved to New York to pursue a career in writing. In her free-time she started to write poetry and teach herself how to play guitar. As she began to write music in her apartment she decided to record her songs on a tape-recorder. In the 1950s a woman with this kind of “behavior” and pursuit of interests was culturally unusual and not celebrated.
The few times her music was heard by people who weren’t close friends or family was when she performed in 1954, in a music salon and CBS’s Morning Show. However, nothing came out of it. In 1961, she became frustrated and disheartened by the fact that her music had yet to gain an audience. She decided to leave New York and start over in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, she had family and began academic jobs. In 1974, a week after her 50th birthday, Converse left a series of haunting notes to family and friends. She expressed that she needed to make a new start somewhere else, from there she drove off and reportedly was never heard from again.
Converse was not a woman of her time, but a person from that era.
Her songs spoke of topics that women were not typically associated with. In her song, “The Clover Saloon,” she recalls how “a fella called me somethin’ I particularly hate. I threw a bottle at him but the feller ducked too soon. That’s how I lost my credit at the Clover Saloon.” A woman drinking at the saloon and expressing anger in a physical way is a direct challenge to how she “should be behaving.”
Converse was someone who also spoke of her loneliness in songs. Something that was frowned upon for a woman of her age to experience. By then she should have already gotten hitched, had a family, and a house with the white picket fence. Her music was controversial because it challenged the 1950’s cultural norms and to emphasize that even more, these challenges were being voiced by a woman. The sophisticated simplicity in her melodies captivate the listener and somehow you become invested in her stories, its characters and the rural imagery that things take place in. She artistically weaves these two elements, and incorporates light-hearted country and blues humor. Unfortunately, Connie Converse’s work was tragically dismissed within her lifetime and there aren’t many recordings that can be heard of her. However, for the songs that have been archived, they now have an audience and one of deep appreciation.
Connie Converse’s album “How Sad, How Lovely” was put out on the Brooklyn Label Squirrel Thing Recordings in 2009.