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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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Within the next few years, de Passe worked in every capacity for Motown, from helping to pick new talent to going on the road with performers. Her quick thinking and sharp wit quickly earned her a promotion as the vice president in charge of creative operations for the new West Coast creative division in Los Angeles.
While in California, de Passe discovered a five-brother singing act, called the Jackson Five. "I was just knocked out," de Passe later said. She convinced Gordy to sign the group after watching them perform in an acquaintance's apartment. De Passe took the group under her wing, supervising their music and choreography. The group would later become an international success, and would launch the career of pop singer Michael Jackson. In addition to Jackson Five, de Passe was responsible for signing many future music icons during her tenure in creative operations at Motown, including The Commodores, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Lionel Richie, Thelma Houston, Billy Preston, Teena Marie, Rick James and Stephanie Mills.
In 1972, de Passe co-wrote a screenplay for Motown's Billie Holiday biopic, Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. The script earned her an Academy Award nomination, and helped her rise in the ranks—first as vice president of Motown's West Coast division, and then vice president of Motown Industries as a whole. During this time, De Passe also met actor Paul Le Mat, whom she married in 1978.
By 1981, de Passe was the president of Motown Productions, where she continued to write and produce films under the Motown label. She quickly proved her mettle when she won a 1983 Emmy for the retrospective, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. She earned yet another Emmy in 1985 for Motown Returns to the Apollo. That same year, de Passe raised eyebrows when she purchased the movie rights to Larry McMurtry's Western novel, Lonesome Dove. The CBS miniseries seemed destined for failure; the four-night, eight-hour presentation was deemed "too long" for network television, and many critics claimed that an African-American woman was a poor fit to produce a Western. But de Passe proved everyone wrong when the series hit the air in 1989. Not only was Lonesome Dove the most popular mini-series in five years, but it also brought Motown more than $10 million in profits and earned de Passe yet another Emmy nomination.
De Passe formed her own production company, de Passe Entertainment, in 1992. Among her productions in this period were the sitcoms Sister, Sister (1994) and Smart Guy (1997) as well as the successful Showtime at the Apollo series (2002).
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