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Sue McLean, prolific local music promoter, dies at 63

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Sue McLean, a prominent concert promoter in the Twin Cities who had been involved in the local and national music scene for decades, has died of cancer.

McLean was 63.

"She's just one of those persons that every one loved," said locally-based singer-songwriter and music producer Kevin Bowe, a longtime friend of McLean's, in an interview Friday night. "Just about about every musician in town knew her."

McLean passed away Friday afternoon. Word of her passing first surfaced on social media.

According to her bio, McLean graduated from St. Cloud State University in 1973 and got her start in the music business in the mid-1970s, booking the likes of The Suicide Commandos and Curtiss A.

While McLean worked with many music legends over the years, it was always in her heart to encourage younger members of the community through special projects, Bowe said.

"She had a young woman's musician's summer camp," Bowe said of McLean's Tweentown Girls Camp in Excelsior. "She was really into helping others."

MPR/The Current said the TweenTown rock ‘n’ roll camp was inspired by her experiences raising her adopted daughter Lilly, now 12.

What also impressed Bowe about his friend was her longevity in a very unforgiving industry.

"Most of the people who did what she did in this music business -- independent concert promoters -- their days ended in the 80s," Bowe said. "During the last 25 years in the music business, big companies like Live Nation have come up and bought out all those people. She was one of the few people in the country that remained. So that is a unique thing. The second thing is her being a woman. So those two things together make her a demographic of one."

Bowe really admired McLean for her general approach to the business.

"Most high-powered music people who are good at it rule through fear and intimidation -- they're not loved," Bowe observed. "It's just not the kind of job where everyone loves you, but everybody loved Sue."

And trusted.

"She was extremely trustworthy in a business where few are," Bowe said. "It would never occur to me to not trust her. She just didn't lie. It was all about relationships with her."

The last 20 years James came through the Midwest, Bowe said, McClean promoted the legendary singer's shows.

"That's because Etta trusted Sue," said Bowe. "Etta James didn't trust a lot of people."

Bowe said it tickled McLean when he had the opportunity to work with James himself.

"I wrote some songs on an Etta James album a few years ago," Bowe said. "Sue was the biggest Etta fan and they were friends -- and nobody was excited more than Sue that I did that."

While McLean brought numerous national acts to the Twin Cities, she also helped many local bands.

"She loved music and people and music people and to hear of her passing today is absolutely heartbreaking," longtime music writer and local musician Jim Walsh posted on Facebook. "So much great live music is happening in this town this weekend, and I would hope Sue would be toasted far and wide because it's people like her who made everything go."

McLean also was friends with Bring Me The News Founder Rick Kupchella for the past 20 years.

"Sue is someone who had a total impact on the business community and in the city," said Kupchella. "Every town should have somebody like Sue in it. It's a real loss."

Over the years she had worked in several capacities, including Special Events Director at the Guthrie Theater.

She left the Guthrie in the mid-1990s to form Triad Entertainment (which became Compass Entertainment), and in 1998, started Sue McLean and Associates, booking several local shows including all concerts at the Minnesota Zoo's annual "Music in the Zoo" summer concert series.

McLean also booked the O'Shaughnessy's Women of Substance Series and booked acts for the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis since it began in 1995. In a Star Tribune profile of McClean in 2012, the paper said she staged 130 concerts in 2011, not counting the Basilica event.

Patricia McLean, Sue McLean's niece told Jon Bream of the Star Tribune Friday that while her aunt didn't broadcast her illness to the world, she was planning ahead.

"I'll be taking over the business at Sue McLean & Associates (SMA) and it will continue business as usual, “ Patricia McLean told Bream.

Particia McLean said her aunt "left an incredible legacy to uphold."

"I'm not Sue, but I’m going to do my damnedest," she said.

According to the Sue McLean & Associates website, funeral services will be on May 24 at 11 a.m. at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, with visitation from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the church prior to the mass.

Details about a music tribute concert and memorial are yet to come, the site said.

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