Suzanne de Passe


Suzanne de Passe (born July, 1951) is an American entertainment executive; the CEO of television production company de Passe Entertainment; and the first and only African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for screen writing.

de Passe was born in New York City, New York. She first became notable as an executive for Motown Records, a company which she joined in 1968 after being introduced to Motown chief Berry Gordy by Supremes member Cindy Birdsong. At Motown, de Passe helped to produce television specials such as TCB and G.I.T. on Broadway, both starring Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations, and was responsible for signing, coaching, and developing Motown’s most popular act of the 1970s, The Jackson 5.

In 1973, both she and Lonne Elder III became the first African-Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for writing. She was nominated for co-writing the screenplay for the Berry Gordy-produced Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross as singer Billie Holiday, while Elder was nominated for Sounder. De Passe co-wrote Lady Sings the Blues with Terence McCloy and Motown recording artist Chris Clark.

de Passe continued to work for Motown, mostly producing television specials such as Motown 25 for the company’s Motown Productions film/TV division into the 1980s.

In 1989, Berry Gordy sold Motown Productions to de Passe, who renamed it de Passe Entertainment. The company has since produced such television shows and feature films as Class Act, Sister, Sister, Smart Guy, and Showtime at the Apollo. Additionally dPE produced a spate of Awards shows including multiple “NAACP Image Awards,” “Essence Awards” and the critically acclaimed “Black Movie Awards.” A number of de Passe Entertainment productions harkenn back to de Passe’s Motown days, including the miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream (in which she is played by Vanessa L. Williams) and The Temptations, and Motown 40: The Music is Forever.

de Passe also was executive producer for the miniseries Lonesome Dove, Buffalo Girls, Streets of Laredo and Dead Man’s Walk, along with the syndicated series Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. All of these projects were based on the writings of Larry McMurtry.

She has won Emmy Awards for producing the Motown 25 and Motown Returns to the Apollo specials which won for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program. In addition, she received Emmy nominations for Lonesome Dove, Buffalo Girls, The Jacksons: An American Dream, The Temptations and the Farrah Fawcett crime miniseries Small Sacrifices. All these nominations were in the Outstanding Miniseries category. De Passe was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1990.


Suzanne De Passe: Motown’s Boss Lady (Wizards of Business) by Mark Mussari

Suzanne De Passe at Motown Productions (Harvard Business School) by Jaan Margus Elias

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