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Suzanne de Passe is an African-American entertainment executive who discovered numerous famous performers, including Michael Jackson.
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Entrepreneur. Born Suzanne Celeste de Passe in July of 1947 in Harlem, New York, to West Indian immigrants. Her mother was a schoolteacher, and her father an executive with Seagrams, Inc. Part of the African-American elite of New York City, de Passe and her family lived in the middleclass Riverton Apartments in Harlem, where she enjoyed visits to the theatre, taking ballet classes and going on summer trips to Martha's Vineyard.
Suzanne's parents divorced when she was three years old, but the former couple remained on good terms. When her father remarried six years later, de Passe says she "had the benefit of an extremely harmonious relationship between three people." This atypical arrangement fostered an encouraging family atmosphere. As a child, De Passe attended several progressive, integrated private schools, including Jack and Jill as well as the New Lincoln School, which she credits for her assertive business style. She went on to attend Manhattan High School and, after graduation in 1964, De Passe entered Syracuse University with the intention of studying writing.
Her first year at Syracuse was less than successful; unhappy with the small African-American community there, de Passe transferred to Manhattan Community College to be closer to home. But de Passe was still unsatisfied with her educational experience, and began spending more time at her favorite hang out, a New York dance club called Cheetah Disco, than at the library. The Cheetah's owners took a shine to de Passe, who had no trouble telling the staff what she thought of each evening's live music. Impressed by her natural ear and no-nonsense style, the Cheetah hired de Passe to be the club's talent coordinator. In this position, she was "the last living authority on live music in New York," she says. "I guess I was pretty obnoxious."
From the Cheetah Disco, de Passe moved on to become a booking agent for the Howard Stein talent agency. In 1964, Supreme's member Cindy Birdsong introduced de Passe to Berry Gordy, the legendary founder of Motown Records. The young de Passe was frustrated with her failed attempts to book talent from Motown, and let Gordy know it. "I want to book Smokey and Martha and the Vandellas but your man won't return my calls," she complained. Gordy offered her a job on the spot, inviting her to come over and "help us straighten it out." Three weeks later, de Passe moved to Detroit, Michigan, and began work as Gordy's personal assistant.
Gordy became her mentor, and began teaching his young charge the creative side of the business. "Gordy let me mess up a lot of things [and] spend a lot of his money," de Passe says of their business relationship.
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After the Civil War, many of the country's best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs and intellectuals moved to the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. Thanks largely to the efforts of these residents, Harlem became both the cradle of a cultural revolution and the heart of the civil rights movement. Meet some of the many people who gave—and continue to give—this neighborhood a voice, simply by calling it home.
Famous Harlem Residents 62 people in this group
Famous People Born in 1947 100 people in this group
Famous Syracuse University Alumni 26 people in this group