Susan Cattaneo – Musical Headliner for Saturday Night MPF

In poetry there are lyrics, and then there are lyrics – the kind you actually sing. Susan Cattaneo, who will be headlining on stage on Saturday night and teaching a workshop on songwriting at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival (April 20-22), is both passionate and driven about the songwriting craft. She is one of those amazing people who, when she graduated from the Berklee School of Music, was hired immediately by the school’s songwriting department.

And her students are happy about the school’s decision. One said, “Susan has been one of the most helpful and supportive teachers I’ve ever had.”

One of Cattaneo’s statements on the Berklee faculty site indicates her understanding of the value of student workshops, “I think we help students find ways to continue to be creative once they leave Berklee. The muse doesn’t always strike. How do you generate that creative idea when you don’t have it? I think if you have the tools to generate the ideas, you’ll find your muse.”

In the workshop at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Cattaneo will encourage those who attend her workshop to find their muse.

Cattaneo as performer

Besides her workshop, Cattaneo will be performing Saturday alongside the poets Joy Harjo, Wesley McNair, and Nikky Finney. Check out the video of her singing her hit Little Big Sky and notice how the words get under your skin: “Streetlights don’t sparkle like Southern skies do. I need a little Big Sky . . . .” Or try her wonderfully buoyant Heaven Looks a Lot Like New Jersey, her home state. (Scroll down. It’s January 29 on her blog.) Or check out other videos on her home page.


Besides being an Assistant Professor of Songwriting, Cattaneo has lots of street cred in the US and in Rome where she spent a year after college learning Italian and singing in piano bars in Rome. Her CDs do well there. In this country she currently works as a Nashville songwriter and has worked with the top producers in the music world, including those as diverse as producers of the songs of Barry Manilow and Dolly Parton.

Cattaneo’s background

Her professional writing career began in advertising where Susan was a writer/producer, creating television commercials for clients such as CBS, NBC, TNT, and TBS among others. Her work won her an Emmy nomination and a New York Broadcasters Award.

In 2009 Susan recorded her debut album of original songs Brave and Wild with an all-star cast from the New England Americana music scene. The record won critical acclaim, and was named Boston debut of the year and one of the Top 10 records of 2009 by Wicked Local (along with releases by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and the Avett Brothers). Songs from Brave and Wild were played on independent radio stations in the US, and the album charted on the Americana Radio chart. In addition, three songs received Honorable Mentions in the Billboard World Song Contest, and the album was played on independent country and Americana radio shows throughout Europe, Asia and Australia.