Suesse, Dana (1909–1987)

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Suesse, Dana (1909–1987)

American composer and pianist who wrote the song "You Oughta Be in Pictures." Pronunciation: sweez. Name variations: Dana DeLinks. Born Nadine Dana Suesse on December 3, 1909, in Kansas City, Missouri; died on October 16, 1987, in New York City; daughter of Julius Suesse and Nina (Chilton) Suesse; married H. Courtney Burr, in 1940 (divorced 1954); married Edward DeLinks, in 1971 (died 1981); no children.

Dana Suesse enjoyed considerable celebrity as a composer in the 1930s and 1940s, but today her name is not well known, although much of her music is still performed. A musical prodigy, she was born in 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri, and given classical music training at a young age. She composed her first song and gave her first piano concert at age eight. At age ten, she won a prize for composition from the National Federation of Music. Suesse also studied voice and dancing, and wrote poetry. On graduation from high school in 1926, she refused a scholarship from the Chicago Conservatory and moved to New York City because of her interest in analyzing popular music styles. She studied piano and composition, and in the late 1920s worked as an arranger for music publishers. In an effort to succeed as a writer, she then turned from classical music and began composing popular tunes. Her first hit, "Syncopated Love Song," was written in 1930, followed in 1931 by "Ho Hum," recorded by Bing Crosby. The successfulJazz Nocturne was popularized with lyrics by Edward Heyman as "My Silent Love" in 1932.

By that time she had already been nicknamed "Sally of Tin Pan Alley" by a music reviewer commenting on her unique position as a popular female composer and the only professional American female symphony composer. Also in 1932, Suesse made her debut at Carnegie Hall performing her Concerto in Three Rhythms; the next year The New Yorker called her "the Girl Gershwin." Like George Gershwin, Suesse had proved that she could move easily from "serious" concert pieces to popular ballads and was an excellent pianist as well as composer. Her orchestral works Symphonic Waltzes and Blue Moonlight followed. Throughout the 1930s, Suesse composed numerous popular songs, including "The Night is Young and You're So Beautiful," "This Changing World," and "Yours for a Song," the latter written with lyricist and theater producer Billy Rose. In 1934, she wrote the music for what is still her most famous popular piece. In explaining how she came to compose it, Suesse said that she had boasted to a music publisher that she could write a hit song in 15 minutes. He dared her to prove it, and, collaborating with lyricist Edward Heyman, 20 minutes later she had produced "You Oughta Be in Pictures," which became an unofficial Hollywood theme song. She also scored several films, including Sweet Surrender (1935), Young Man with a Horn (1950), and The Seven Year Itch (1955), but did much more work for Broadway theater than for Hollywood, though she was never given the opportunity to compose her own Broadway musical.

Suesse, who married the Broadway producer Courtney Burr in 1940, contributed compositions to many of his plays. (They would divorce in 1954.) Although she had continued to produce orchestral works throughout the late 1930s and 1940s, in 1947 Suesse turned to classical work exclusively. She studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger from 1947 to 1950. Her work in Paris brought her back to jazz music, and on her return to the States she wrote Jazz Concerto in D Major, first performed in 1956. In 1971, at age 60, she married Edwin DeLinks, moving to Connecticut and then to the Virgin Islands. In 1974, she was honored with a concert of her works at Carnegie Hall, where she performed part of her Concerto in Three Rhythms. Suesse was widowed in 1981 and retired, at age 70, in New York. She was still composing at the time of her death at age 77 in 1988.


"Suesse, Dana" in John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography. NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

"Suesse, Dana" in Edward Jablonski, ed., The Encyclopedia of American Music. NY: Doubleday, 1981.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California