The daughter of Daniel Reed, a successful entertainer, actor, director, and playwright, red-haired folk singer Susan Reed spent much of her childhood surrounded by entertainers. Though she was raised predominantly in South Carolina, she traveled frequently with her father and was exposed at a young age to the entertainment industry in New York, Los Angeles, and Hollywood. Guests in the Reed household often included accomplished singers, dancers, and musicians; it was her father’s friends, the influential folk musicians Carl Sandburg and Huddie Ledbetter, who first introduced Susan Reed to American folk music. She received her earliest lessons in the tradition from some of its finest practitioners.
Members of the Abbey Theater Company of Dublin, often visited the Reeds when the company toured in the United States. Actors and musicians from this company, including Ralph Cullinan and Farrell Pelly, introduced Reed to Irish folk music. She was so deeply influenced by these performers and their musical tradition that she began playing the Irish harp and learning Irish folk songs. In just a few years, Reed had mastered the instrument; she had also learned to play the zither and the Appalachian autoharp.
By the time Susan Reed was a teenager, her family had settled in New York City. She began performing in the City’s popular nightclubs to much acclaim. After years of singing in church choirs and performing for wounded soldiers in VA hospitals, Reed had developed a beautiful singing voice that was perfectly matched to the music of her Irish harp. Soon she was traveling to clubs and music festivals all over the United States, playing traditional folk songs from many countries. Reed performed regularly on the radio and she appeared on a number of television programs, including major network specials.
Though Susan Reed enjoyed a great deal of success throughout her career, today her name and her music are not well known, even in folk music circles. Though few remember her, Susan Reed is among the pioneering musicians of the so-called “Hootenanny movement” responsible for exposing American audiences to traditional folk music from many cultures. In the 1950s, Reed made several albums of American and European folk songs; she recorded many folk standards, including “I Know My Love,” “Jennie Jenkins,” “Go Away From My Window,” and “I’m Sad and I’m Lonely.”