Susie Tennant, a former Geffen Records executive who played a major role in the rise of Nirvana, died on Jan. 18 at her West Seattle home after several years living with frontotemporal dementia, a progressive neurological disorder, her family confirmed. She was 61.
Born in Germany and raised all over the world as an “army brat,” Tennant moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington and played a prominent role in the city’s fast-rising music scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She was Geffen’s Northwest radio promotion rep at the time Nirvana signed with the label and was a key player in the launch of their galvanizing 1991 album “Nevermind,” which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.
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“Susie was their real champion in Seattle because she was the local rep, and she had a good relationship with Kurt [Cobain] — I think he was crashing on her sofa for a while,” former Geffen exec Ray Farrell told Variety in 2021. “She was very sweet and very enthusiastic and I think her heart was really with them. Everything was changing because of them, and this was her band.”
“Susie really rallied Seattle for them,” her fellow Geffen radio exec John Rosenfelder recalled. “Nirvana were actually a lot more indie than most of the other Seattle bands [like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam], and people there could have been like, ‘Oh, major-label sellouts’ — but they didn’t, and she had a lot to do with that.”
Former Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic said in a statement to the Seattle Times, “We loved Susie a great deal, and she will be missed.”
Geffen was one of the main proponents of the alternative-rock wave of the 1990s and Tennant worked closely with most of the label’s acts of the time, including Sonic Youth, Hole, Weezer, Beck, Teenage Fanclub and many others. Over the course of her career she also held roles at Tower Records, the Sub Pop label, Experience Music Project (now MoPOP), KEXP, BMG Music, Town Hall Seattle, and the Vera Project — an all-ages nonprofit space dedicated to community transformation through youth-driven engagement in music and art.
Tennant was also deeply involved in local schools and community work, including Music for Marriage Equality, which played a pivotal role in legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, and co-founding the Ladies Who Lunch affinity group for hundreds of women professionals in the music and entertainment industry.
She is survived by her husband, Christopher Swenson, daughter Ella and son Eli.
Monetary remembrances can be made in her name to Seattle Musicians Access to Sustainable Healthcare Susie Tennant Memorial Fund, Seattle Musicians for Children’s Hospital, MusiCares, The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration or the University of Washington’s Brain Aging and Dementia Research in the Brain Lab Fund, where Tennant made a legacy donation of her brain for research.
A public celebration of her life will be announced at a future date.
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