Many young St. Louis Park children took piano lessons from the remarkable Suzanne Cargill, who lived at 29th and Hampshire Ave. Ms. Cargill had a fascinating history, which is told to us by her friend, Laurie Emery Simmons.
Laurie tells us that Suzanne was a concert pianist and studied under Claude Debussy at the Conservatory of Paris. She had a record of her first concert that she performed at age 17. Further research shows that Suzanne and her sister Marcelle had a piano act before the War.
Suzanne told Laurie that she and her husband were part of the French underground that helped Jews escape occupied France during WW II. They were discovered and one night as they were walking home from a concert. They turned the corner to their street and there was a military truck right in front of their apartment building. When they got closer, a bunch of SS jumped out and grabbed them. They threw them both to the ground and started beating them with clubs. They beat her husband to death; she said they made her watch her husband being tortured and they pulled all his finger nails out and laughed while he screamed from pain. They beat her hands so bad that she had constant arthritis and couldn’t be a concert pianist anymore. They beat her legs so bad that, even though she was able to walk again, she had open sores on her shins and ended up with gangrene, probably for the rest of her life. It was very painful and she was in constant contact with a physician but no one was ever able to cure it.
Laurie recounts, “After the war, jobs were hard to come by and she got a job as a bartender in a little local place. The regulars knew her story and there was this old, beat up upright grand in the bar and they would ask for her to play. One day she was playing and her audience, as usual, was quiet and respectful and were thoroughly enjoying it and a bunch of U.S. soldiers came in already drunk, yelling and laughing and demanding drinks. She got them what they wanted and when she gave them the bill one G.I. said we’re not paying you. We freed you, and besides I’m a famous movie star and I ALWAYS get free drinks and dinner! She hated this man, passionately. It was Mickey Rooney.”
Suzanne came to the U.S. in 1947 and became a naturalized citizen. In 1948 she lived in Minneapolis. She taught piano at Northrop Collegiate School from at least 1953 to 1965. In 1953 she was also in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. 1953 was also the year that she moved to St. Louis Park, first living at 2916 Blackstone, possibly with her sister, Marcelle, That December Suzanne and Marcelle’s former theatrical manager, 80-year-old Michel Tabuteau, came to America to marry Marcelle. Marcelle died in October 1966.
Sometime between 1954 and 1956 Suzanne moved to 2909 Hampshire Ave., where she lived and taught piano for many years. The last year she is listed in the St. Louis Park phone book is 1990.
Laurie remembers: “I used to clean her house for her. And, even better than that I used to play with Lady for her. Her son had bought her a yellow lab who was fully grown but still young and Suzanne couldn’t play with her. Suzanne’s favorite TV show was Hogan’s Heroes. She used to watch that every day and sit there and laugh at how dumb the Nazis were. She’d raise a fist and shake it and yell in French/English and laugh so hard I used to be afraid that she’d fall off her recliner.”
Another former student remembers that there were “so many stories, it was a history lesson more than piano, and I liked it that way. She always had me stay after my lesson for a piece of cake. She was amazing.”
One of Suzanne Cargill’s classes, all dressed up for a recital. Courtesy of Al Hartman (in the bow tie).