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Suzanne de Passe


Suzanne de Passe paved the way for women in the music business as one of the first leading female executives.

With nearly six decades in the entertainment field, trailblazer Suzanne de Passe paved the way for women in the music business as one of the first leading female executives. From de Passe’s extraordinary 20 years with Motown to her successful tenure heading de Passe Entertainment, she has used her passion, persistence, and vision to triumph in a male-dominated industry.

Born in Harlem, New York, Suzanne de Passe began her career as the talent coordinator at NYC nightspot the Cheetah Club. Her friendship with Supremes member Cindy Birdsong led to a job as creative assistant to Motown founder Berry Gordy. De Passe’s first coup came in 1968, when she helped sign the Jackson 5 to the label. “I didn’t have any practical skills,” de Passe said, “but I had a big mouth, a lot of input, and a lot of opinions. If I have any claim to fame in terms of the Jackson story, it was that I didn’t take no for an answer. I persisted. [Berry] finally saw them, and the rest is history.” While leading Motown’s records division, De Passe went on to sign The Commodores, Rick James, Teena Marie, and DeBarge to the label.

De Passe co-wrote the screenplay for the 1972 Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. Her work was nominated for an Academy Award, and to date de Passe is the only woman of color to receive the Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay. Rising through the ranks to become president of Motown in 1981, de Passe was key in taking the company to television. She produced and co-wrote the landmark Emmy Award-winning anniversary special Motown: Yesterday, Today, Forever, which featured a Supremes reunion and introduced Michael Jackson’s moonwalk to the world.

After leaving Motown in 1992, Suzanne de Passe developed her own production company and produced successful series like Sister, Sister and Showtime at the Apollo, and miniseries including The Temptations and The Jacksons: An American Dream. With her incredible career, and mentorship of young artists and executives, Suzanne de Passe has changed the music industry for the better.


Mary J. Blige