A theater critic and friend of Ruth Nordberg Seufert described the impresario’s life as “one of constant push-push-push to get bodies in the seats and money in the till.” The entrepreneurial Seufert may have been keenly aware of the bottom line, but her appreciation of music, a byproduct of her own talent and background, prevented her from neglecting quality in the performances she promoted, and Kansas City concert-goers benefited from this balance over the course of four decades.
Ruth Nordberg was born July 5, 1897, in Bonner Springs, Kansas, daughter of Swedish native Olaf G. Nordberg. Throughout Ruth’s childhood, the Nordberg home was full of music; her father played violin and cello, and her family hosted musicians visiting from Sweden and other countries. Ruth and her two brothers, William and Arthur, received musical instruction from an early age. When the Nordbergs moved to Kansas City, Missouri, Ruth attended Northeast High School, and, in what might have been her first business venture, charged a fee of 25 cents per hour for piano lessons.
Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, Ruth associated with the leading figures of Kansas City’s musical community. In 1918 she married Arno Seufert, a musician who had studied at the Royal Academy of Stockholm and the University of Uppsala. Her brothers performed with the Coon-Sanders Nighthawks, a “Jazz Age” dance band from Kansas City with a national audience. Ruth’s involvement with the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra was also a family affair: while her husband played cello for the orchestra, she sold subscriptions to its concerts.
Ruth Seufert’s sales talent and commitment to the Philharmonic eventually earned her an appointment as the organization’s business manager. When she assumed the position in 1941, the financial future of the orchestra seemed bleak, but five profitable seasons under her guidance seemed to defy the negative impact of World War II on concert attendance.
In 1946, Seufert founded Ruth Seufert Celebrity Attractions through which she brought many of the premier performers of the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s to Kansas City. A season of Seufert events could include a Metropolitan Opera production, a Broadway musical, and a Bolshoi Ballet performance, as well as a concert by a renowned international musician or popular bandleader. Among the stars Seufert presented were Tony Award-winner Pearl Bailey, legendary French mime Marcel Marceau, and Hal Holbrook in his signature Mark Twain role.
Year after year, Seufert accomplished the difficult task of pleasing both customers and performers. She shared gourmet meals of her own creation with some of the brightest lights in show business and toasted them at the city’s finest restaurants, but never underestimated the good taste of Kansas City audiences. “People come expecting a first class performance,” she once remarked to a reporter, “and are knowledgeable enough to know when they are getting it.”
A member of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Kansas City Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the International Association of Concert and Festival managers, Seufert’s love of music and theater led to a career as one of Kansas City’s female business pioneers. She died January 25, 1975, having outlived her husband Arno, who died in 1954. Their daughter, Martha Jo Seufert, carried on two family traditions by continuing the work of Ruth Seufert Celebrity Attractions and playing violin for the Kansas City Symphony.
A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-ruth-seufert1897-1975-concert...
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