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Soyars Leadership Lecture Series features Suzanne de Passe
Suzanne de Passe ’68, one of this year’s Arents Award winners, will be the next speaker in the Soyars Leadership Lecture Series. She will speak on Thursday, Oct. 14, from 6:45-8 p.m. in room 007 in the Whitman School building.
De Passe, CEO of de Passe Entertainment Group LLC and co-chair of de Passe Jones Entertainment, is a music, television and film executive and one of the most successful women in her field. Early in her career, after attending SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, de Passe joined Detroit’s Motown Records label as a creative assistant to the legendary Berry Gordy, and went on to promote the solo careers of Lionel Ritchie, Rick James and other talented young musical artists and groups. Most notably, de Passe is credited with discovering the Jackson Five and coaching the five singing brothers on a path from Gary, Ind., to meteoric success on an international stage.
Rising through the ranks at Motown, de Passe was involved in virtually every facet of the company’s expanding empire. In 1972, she shared screenwriter credit for the Billie Holiday biopic “Lady Sings the Blues,” starring Diana Ross. The screenplay won a nomination for an Academy Award. In 1981, she was named president of Motown Productions and headed the company’s expansion into the production of television shows. Among the variety specials she produced are “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” and “Motown Returns to the Apollo,” both of which were Emmy and NAACP Image award winners. After Gordy sold Motown, de Passe entered into a producing partnership with him and brought to screen the 1989 Emmy-nominated CBS western “Lonesome Dove.” Adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry, the program led to several sequels, “Return to Lonesome Dove” (1993); “Larry McMurtry’s Street’s of Laredo” (1995); and a syndicated series “Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years/ Lonesome Dove: The Early Years” (1994-96).
As president and founder of de Passe Entertainment, she continued to build a reputation as one of television’s most notable female producers. Listed among her productions are “Sister, Sister;” “Smart Guy;” and the NAACP Image Award-winning miniseries “The Temptations.” For the production “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” she had the unusual opportunity to cast an actress to play herself, choosing another former SU student, Vanessa Williams.
From 2002-08, she served as executive producer of “Showtime at the Apollo,” a weekly variety program nationally syndicated by Warner Brothers/Telepictures. In 2005 and 2006, she co-created, wrote and executive produced the Black Movie Awards for TNT. And in 2009, she was an executive producer for President Barack Obama’s 2009 Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball. Currently, she is producing (along with Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks) the first authorized biopic and definitive film on the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
Her honors include the American Women in Radio and Television Silver Satellite Award, the Essence Business Award, the Women in Film Crystal Award and being inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. In 1986, de Passe received a Chancellor’s Citation at SU’s Coming Back Together reunion, awarded in recognition of significant civic or career achievements of alumni age 40 or younger. Today, as an advisor to SU’s LA Semester, de Passe generously shares her time and expertise to help SU students prepare for successful careers in the entertainment field.