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Suzanne Vega was the first major figure in the bumper crop of female singer/songwriters who rose to prominence during the late '80s and '90s. Her hushed, restrained folk-pop and highly literate lyrics (inspired chiefly by Leonard Cohen, as well as Lou Reed and Bob Dylan) laid the initial musical groundwork for what later became the trademark sound of Lilith Fair (a tour on which she was a regular). Moreover, her left-field hit single "Luka" helped convince record companies that folk-styled singer/songwriters were not a thing of the past after all, paving the way for breakthroughs by Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Shawn Colvin, Edie Brickell, the Indigo Girls, Sinéad O'Connor, and a host of others on through the '90s. Vega's early commercial success helped open doors for a wealth of talent, and even if she couldn't sustain the level of popularity she reached in 1987 with "Luka" and the platinum Solitude Standing, she maintained a strong and dedicated cult following. Her association with -- and marriage to -- experimental producer Mitchell Froom during the '90s resulted in two intriguing but uneven albums; however, following their painful divorce, Vega returned in 2001 with her first album in five years, Songs in Red and Gray, which was greeted with her strongest reviews in a decade.
Suzanne Vega was born July 11, 1959, in Santa Monica, California; her parents divorced shortly thereafter, and after her mother (a jazz guitarist) remarried to Puerto Rican novelist Ed Vega, the family moved to Manhattan. A shy and quiet child, Suzanne nonetheless learned to take care of herself growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem. Her parents often sang folk songs around the house, and when she began playing the guitar at age 11, she found herself attracted to the poetry of singer/songwriter music (Dylan, Cohen), and found a refuge from New York's chaos in traditional folk (Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Joan Baez). At age 14, she made her first attempts at writing songs; however, when she attended the High School for the Performing Arts as a teenager, it was to study dance, not music. She subsequently enrolled at Barnard College as a literature major, and during this time, she began playing at coffeehouses and folk festivals on the West Side and near Columbia University; she soon moved up to the Lower East Side/Greenwich Village folk clubs, including the famed Folk City club where Bob Dylan started out. In 1979, Vega attended a Lou Reed concert, and the effect was a revelation: here was an artist chronicling the harsh urban world Vega knew, with the detail and literacy of a folk artist. Vega discovered a new voice and sense of possibility for her original material, and her writing grew rapidly.
Vega graduated from college in 1982 and held down several low-level day jobs while quickly becoming the Greenwich Village folk scene's brightest hope. Record companies were reluctant to take a chance on a singer/songwriter steeped in folk music, however, since they saw little chance of any commercial returns. After three years of rejections, Vega and her managers Ron Fierstein and Steve Addabbo finally convinced A&M (which had turned her down twice) to give her a shot, and she signed a contract in 1983. Former Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye was brought in to co-produce the debut with Addabbo and lend it a smoother, more contemporary flavor.
Titled simply Suzanne Vega, it was released in 1985 to much critical applause. Thanks in part to the single "Marlene on the Wall," the album was a genuine hit in Britain, where it eventually went platinum; while it didn't duplicate that success in America, the album's sales of 200,000 strong still came as a shock to A&M (and Vega). For the 1987 follow-up, Vega overcame writer's block to craft an eclectic batch of new material, as well as drawing upon a backlog of songs that hadn't fit the debut. Again produced by Kaye and Addabbo, Solitude Standing was Vega's finest achievement; the richness and variety of its compositions were complemented by the lusher full-band arrangements and more accessible (albeit less folky) production. The album's lead single, "Luka," was a haunting first-person account of child abuse, whose terse (and fictional) lyrics struck a chord with American radio listeners. As a result, the album was an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic; it debuted at number two in the U.K. and went gold within three months in the U.S., peaking at number 11 and eventually going platinum. "Luka" hit number three on the American pop charts -- unheard of for a singer/songwriter in the '80s prior to Vega -- and was nominated for three Grammys. As record companies rushed to fill a market niche they hadn't known existed (and uncovering some major talents in the process), Vega spent almost a year on the road touring in support of the record; exhausted, she returned to New York to take some time off, and also tracked down her biological father for the first time.
When the time came to record her third album in 1989, Vega decided to co-produce it herself with her keyboardist/boyfriend Anton Sanko (longtime bassist Michael Visceglia also had input). Vega began to experiment with her lyrics, pushing beyond the narrative story-songs that dominated her first two records, and had minimalist composer Philip Glass contribute a string arrangement. The result, Days of Open Hand, was released in 1990, yet didn't produce another hit single and was somewhat lost in the shuffle of new female singer/songwriters; though it did sell respectably, reviews were somewhat mixed. Even though the album didn't recapture Vega's 1987 popularity, she was still -- indirectly -- involved in one of 1990's most bizarre hit singles. Two British dance producers working under the alias DNA took the a cappella Solitude Standing track "Tom's Diner" and set it to an electronic dance beat, releasing the result as a bootleg single called "Oh Suzanne." When A&M discovered the piracy, Vega decided to allow the single's official release under its original title, and it became a substantial hit in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. The following year, Vega gathered a number of other unsolicited versions of the song and compiled them as Tom's Album.
Intrigued by the success of "Tom's Diner," Vega began looking for ways to open up her musical approach. She hooked up with producer Mitchell Froom, best known for his work on latter-day albums by Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, and Crowded House. Froom applied his trademark approach -- dissonant arrangements, clanging percussion -- to Vega's new 1992 album, and while 99.9 F° didn't reinvent her as a dance artist (as some expected), the synth-centered sound of the record was unlike any of her previous work. Froom and Vega began dating several months after the record's completion, and they wound up marrying; their daughter, Ruby, was born in 1994, and Vega naturally took some time off from music. She returned in 1996 with Nine Objects of Desire, again with Froom in the producer's chair, though his approach was somewhat less radical this time out; in terms of Vega's subject matter, there was a newfound physical sensuality borne of her marriage and childbirth experiences.
All was not well for long, however; Froom began seeing Ally McBeal singer Vonda Shepard, and he and Vega split up in August 1998. In 1999, Vega released the best-of retrospective Tried and True, taking stock of her past career (she had also split with longtime manager Ron Fierstein); she also published her first book, The Passionate Eye, a collection of poems, lyrics, essays, journalistic pieces, and the like. Vega began playing shows with bassist Michael Visceglia again, and worked on material addressing the breakup of her marriage. Songs in Red and Gray was released in the fall of 2001 and marked a return to the more direct sound of Suzanne Vega and Solitude Standing; it also garnered her best reviews since those records. Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega arrived in 2003, followed by the Live at Montreux 2004 DVD/CD in 2006 and the all-new Beauty & Crime in 2007. In 2010, Vega released Close Up, Vol. 1 and Close Up, Vol. 2 -- the first half of a proposed four-volume collection of re-recorded versions of songs from her catalog, all featuring stripped-down, unadorned arrangements that highlight the lyrics and melodies -- and followed the first two installments of the series with Close Up, Vol. 3 in 2011. The final release in the sequence, Close-Up, Vol. 4: Songs of Family, appeared a year later in 2012.
Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American songwriter and singer known for her eclectic folk-inspired music.
Two of Vega's songs (both from her second album Solitude Standing, 1987) reached the top 10 of various international chart listings: "Luka" and "Tom's Diner". The latter was originally an a cappella version on Vega's album, which was then remade in 1990 as a dance track produced by the British dance production team DNA.
Early life 
Vega was born July 11, 1959 in Santa Monica, California. Her mother, Pat Vega, 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. Her stepfather, Ed Vega, also known as Edgardo Vega Yunque, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico.
When Vega was two and a half, the family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side. At the age of nine she began to write poetry; she wrote her first song at age fourteen. Later she attended New York's prestigious High School of Performing Arts (now called LaGuardia High School). There she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.
While majoring in English literature at Barnard College, 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. 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.; 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 on Songs from Liquid Days by composer Philip Glass.
Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success including the hit single "Luka", an international success. "Luka" 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 through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit.
Tom's Diner Tom's Restaurant, after which the song Tom's Diner was named (photo taken in 2000)
Vega's song "Tom's Diner" was used as the reference track in an early trial of the MP3 compression system, thus earning her the distinction of being named "The Mother of the MP3". Because it is an a cappella vocal with relatively little reverberation, it was used as the model for Karlheinz Brandenburg's sound compression algorithm. Brandenburg heard “Tom's Diner” on a radio playing the song and was excited and at first convinced it would be "nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice."
"Tom's Diner" takes place in Tom's Restaurant at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Exterior shots of the same restaurant appear in the television sitcom Seinfeld as Monk's, which is the eatery where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer hang out. The DNA remix of the track was so popular that it inspired many cover versions—the best of which were eventually collected by Vega on an album titled Tom's Album. The remixed version of "Tom's Diner" was later sampled by hip hop artist Nikki D in her single "Daddy's Little Girl". Rapper Tupac Shakur sampled the track in "Dopefiend's Diner".
On July 28, 2012, Vega and the Soul Rebels Brass Band shared the stage and performed "Tom's Diner" together at the inaugural 2012 Boston Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square.
On a 1987 Swedish television special, Vega said this about her song "Luka":A few years ago, I used to see this group of children playing in front of my building, and there was one of them, whose name was Luka, who seemed a little bit distinctive from the other children. I always remembered his name, and I always remembered his face, and I didn't know much about him, but he just seemed set apart from these other children that I would see playing. And his character is what I based the song Luka on. In the song, the boy Luka is an abused child—in real life I don't think he was. I think he was just different.
Also, in an ASCAP interview, she responded to a question about "Luka":Interviewer: When you can touch so many people with songs like 'Luka', it must be pretty rewarding.Vega: Yeah. It’s an amazing feeling. Especially since that particular song is a very special song. It’s a song about child abuse, so therefore it does touch a lot of people in a different way than if it were, say, a love song or some other kind of song.
"Luka" was covered by The Lemonheads on the 1989 album Lick, shortly before the band was signed by Atlantic Records, and was a minor college-airplay hit.
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.
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).
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.
September 2001 saw the release of a new album, Songs In Red and Gray. Three songs deal with Vega's divorce from first husband Mitchell Froom.
At the memorial concert for her brother Tim Vega in December 2002, she began as the long-term subject of a direct cinema documentary, Some Journey, by director Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films. This has not been completed.
In 2003, the twenty-one-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 twelve 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 prestigious Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting.
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. During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988.
In early October 2006, Vega took part 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 classical 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 twelve 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 was produced by Jimmy Hogarth, which won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Her contract was not renewed and she was dropped in June 2008.
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 #1 during 2007 and finished as the #11 hit of the year on the PMC Top10's annual countdown. Vega joined the 10th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers. She was also a judge for the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Independent Music Awards.
A partial cover version of her song "Tom's Diner" is used to introduce the 2010 British movie 220.127.116.11, with its lyrics largely rewritten to echo the plot. This musical hybrid was released as "Keep Moving".
Vega is included 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 is rerecording her back-catalogue, both for artistic and commercial (and control) reasons, 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 and 4 (Songs of Family) was released 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.
Vega sang lead vocals on the song "Now I Am an Arsonist" with singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton on his 2011 album, Artificial Heart.
On July 28, 2012, Vega and the Soul Rebels Brass Band shared the stage and performed "Tom's Diner" together at the inaugural 2012 Boston Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square.
Vega co-wrote (with Duncan Sheik) a play “Carson McCullers Talks About Love”, about the life of the writer Carson McCullers. In the play, which premiered in 2011, Vega alternates between monologue and songs. Vega and Sheik were nominated for Outstanding Music in a Play for the 57th annual Drama Desk awards.
Personal life 
On March 17, 1995, Vega married Mitchell Froom, a musician and a record producer (who played in 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 after her, with Vega's approval, though she requested a slight change. Recently Ruby sang with her mother on a couple of occasions. Vega and Froom separated in 1998.
On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer. They originally met at Gerde's Folk City on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village when singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky, a friend of both, introduced them. In the words of her website, "The couple met at Folk City on West 4th Street in 1981. Mr. Mills proposed to Miss Vega in May, 1983, and she accepted his proposal on Christmas Day, 2005."