A self-proclaimed Southern girl at heart, Marie Sueing’s love of Nashville is infectious. From her role as Senior Vice President of Multicultural Community Relations for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation to her position on the board of the National Museum of African American Music, which is slated to open later this summer, she is strengthening our community relations and raising awareness about all of the exciting things our city offers. Meet our newest FACE of Nashville, Marie Sueing.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to Nashville?
I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY — I am a Southern girl at heart who was born in the North! My introduction to the South was coming to Atlanta for college, and I’ve been in the South for 33 years now. I met my husband in Atlanta, and we started our family there. He’s originally from Memphis, so we moved there for a year, and then his job relocated us here, which is how we ended up in Nashville in 1994.
How did you end up in your position at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation?
This year marks 30 years that I’ve been in the hospitality industry. I started in Atlanta with Marriott hotels, and when we moved from Atlanta to Memphis, I was able to transfer there. Then, when my husband’s job relocated us from Memphis to Nashville, I was able to transfer again. So, I’ve worked with Marriott, and I’ve worked with the Opryland Hotel and Starwood Hotels. The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation works closely with all of our hotel partners when we’re looking to bring convention meetings and tourism groups to the city, so I already had relationships with them. It was a wonderful opportunity that opened up for me. I said, “How awesome would it be to actually be able to sell the city as a destination?” I get to help our hotel partners and businesses keep their employees working and have a bigger impact on the hospitality community. So, this is what I’ve been doing ever since, almost 14 years now.
Your role is to promote all of the wonderful things Nashville has to offer in terms of history, culture and events — so, what is the thing you love most about Music City?
In light of recent events, I would say the thing I love most about Music City is the way the city just rallies together and rallies around our community and our residents. I’ve just never seen anything like it from any other city I’ve ever lived in. People talk about Tennessee being the Volunteer State, but Nashville — it’s just the kindness and the philanthropic community and everyday people from every walk of life going out into these communities together. I saw it for myself during the tornado cleanup. As the world came crashing down on a lot of our residents, I was able to see firsthand how my team was getting out and helping — clearing debris, spreading some love and providing food. We know it’s not just something we’re doing for a week, it’s something that’s going to take some of our communities a lot longer to recuperate. So, that’s one of the things I just love about our city and really love about our CVC team, too. We really care.
People aren’t doing as much traveling right now, and many places are still closed. How has the CVC had to pivot in the changing climate?
This experience has taught us all the value of human interaction, and that we can be creative to ensure we are connecting with one another. Finding ways to stay visible and relevant to our customers and the local community has been our goal since early March. Providing virtual experiences through technology has been key to helping us achieve this goal. From the beginning, we pivoted by updating our website and messaging in the wake of the devastating tornado — and then COVID spread to our country and ultimately to Nashville, forcing us to create a new platform to address the pandemic. Our customers and community have been severely impacted, so we felt having easy access to current information would be most helpful to them. Being a constant resource to our clients and community leaders who have had to pivot in regards to the planning of their conventions and events has been our main focus these last few months. We’ve even created virtual singer/songwriter experiences for key clients, both domestically and internationally, to give them a taste of Music City and keep Nashville on the forefront of their minds when they are ready to plan future events.
Are there any initiatives we can still help with to support the CVC during this time?
Absolutely! As our city moves through the various phases of reopening, I think the most important thing we can do in support of one another is to follow the advice of our medical community to remain vigilant in the fight against this pandemic. Nashville is blessed to have a thriving healthcare industry that includes medical experts who base their recommendations on data and science. Our city leadership relies heavily on these experts when making decisions that will impact the health of our residents, visitors, and the overall economy. Staying abreast of current information related to COVID-19, and staying the course when it comes to adhering to safety procedures as we go about our day, will benefit us all in the long run. Until there is a vaccination, our short-term sacrifice (social distancing, face masks, etc.) will be the key to our long-term success.
You are serving on the board of the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM). How did the museum come about, and why was Nashville chosen as the location?
It was originally the vision of community leaders to have something here to celebrate Nashville’s African American history and culture, and it evolved into celebrating the influence of African American music genres and over 50 sub-genres. It went from a Nashville museum to a national museum, and it will be the only one of its kind in existence. We’re Music City, so why not tell the story of the African American influence on all genres of music? Country is king here, and we love country music, but what people don’t know is there are all kinds of music being played, written and recorded in Nashville. So, this seemed to be the perfect fit.
What is the museum’s vision, and what do you hope it will do for our community?
The purpose will be to preserve, educate and celebrate the influence and contributions of African American music. We hope it will open eyes and be a space to create shared experiences and bring people together from all walks of life. I think it will show that we really do — “we,” meaning people in general — have so much in common, and one thing is our love for music.
Is the museum still slated to open late summer?
Currently, it is. However, the public should refer to the website and social platforms for any updates regarding museum opening dates and festivities. Opening plans are currently being adjusted to reflect the COVID environment, but more announcements should be available soon. What’s also exciting is NMAAM began selling advance tickets in late February, so we anticipate the museum will welcome guests as summer comes to a close.
What can we expect to see at the museum once it is open?
In a nutshell, it’s going to be an amazing experience. It will be five galleries — Wade in the Water, Crossroads, A Love Supreme, One Nation Under a Groove, and The Message. They will all celebrate the different genres of African American music — jazz, blues, gospel, R&B and rap. It will be very high-tech, so you’ll be able to touch screens and see that an artist was influenced by another artist and the people that the artist has then influenced. There will be an amphitheater, event space and a pretty large lobby. In fact, I know the museum is already receiving requests for holiday parties later this year. There will be multipurpose rooms and a wonderful gift shop; it’s truly going to be an experience for all to enjoy. The museum is now in the fabrication stage of building the exhibits, which represents another milestone that brings us closer to NMAAM’s grand opening!
On a personal level, what music has most influenced you?
I have to thank my mother for my eclectic taste in music. Because while I would say my true loves are R&B, gospel and jazz, I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, NY, listening to everybody from Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to Kenny Rogers, Phoebe Snow and Carole King. I’ll start humming a song or singing words to a song, and my husband will look at me like, “How do you know that?” I really do appreciate all genres of good music.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
This is so the stage of life I’m in. I’m reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Because now that I’m an empty-nester, I’m learning to stretch myself personally and professionally. Sometimes learning to say “yes” is also learning when and to whom I can say “no.” And I’m OK with that. You’ve got to protect your space.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Growing up, my Grandma Hattie often had words of wisdom and encouragement for me. I called them “Hattie-isms” because there were so many. But one of my favorite Hattie-isms is, “Marie, God don’t love ugly, and He cares a mighty little for beauty.” It’s a simple reminder that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from or what you look like, how you treat others speaks volumes about who you are as a person. So, just be kind.
Other than faith, family and friends, what are the three things you cannot live without?
I feel for me to truly live a fulfilling and happy life, I need hope, love and music.
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