Susan (Powers) Sykes, a longtime member of Tucson's music community, died Tuesday, Aug. 2, after battling breast cancer. She was 46.
The relatively sudden loss of Susan, who was diagnosed only earlier this year, stunned her family, friends and co-workers.
"Susan just loved people," said her sister, Jennifer Powers-Murphy. "That's the first thing that comes to mind."
A celebration of Susan's life will he held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20 at the First Christian Church, located at 740 E. Speedway Blvd., at Euclid Avenue. On the following Wednesday, Aug. 24, seven downtown/Fourth Avenue music venues will host Songs for Susan, a 28-band benefit to help pay Susan's medical expenses.
Susan was born on April 18, 1959, in Great Bend, Kan. She moved with her family to Tucson in 1970. She attended schools including Harelson Elementary and Canyon del Oro Junior High and High School.
According to her sister, Susan was "instrumental" in the launch of Tucson's punk scene, serving as one of the founding promoters of Pearl's Hurricane in the summer of 1979. In 1981, she met the man who would become her husband, Jeffrey Sykes, at a Teardrop Explodes show at the Student Union Cellar. After he graduated from the UA with his MBA later that year, the two moved to Chicago. They were married in Tucson in 1982 and then moved to Los Angeles. In 1985, they moved to Hoboken, N.J., where they'd spend the next decade.
Across the Hudson River, Susan went to work for Financial Technologies, a software developer located in the World Trade Center. She'd later join the staff of God's Love We Deliver, a nonprofit that delivered meals to homebound AIDS patents. She eventually took a job in student placement at the New York Center for Media Arts.
Her husband died unexpectedly on New Year's Day 1995. Susan was devastated, said Powers-Murphy.
"She's a template (for what our family is going through now)," said Powers-Murphy. "After she lost her husband ... she made herself go on. It's not like she curled up in a fetal position and stayed there for a while. That just didn't happen."
Susan moved back to Tucson later that year, and enrolled at the University of Arizona to pursue a degree in art history. She'd leave school in her junior year, missing the working world and the "company of adults." She worked briefly for Voice Trak before joining the Weekly in October 2000 as an advertising executive, where she connected again with the music community.
"It was a great job for her," said Powers-Murphy. "Susan loved people."
She left the Weekly earlier this year--shortly before her diagnosis--to join Bits on the Wire, Inc.
The planning for Songs for Susan began before her death. When event organizer Jamie Manser put out the call to the music community, the response was overwhelming. Manser said she had to turn several bands away to keep the event manageable.
"I know that really deeply touched Susan, that so many people would volunteer to do that," said Powers-Murphy. "She was really blown away."
The seven venues include Plush, Surly Wench, O'Malley's, Club Congress, the Rialto Theatre, Sharks and Heart-Five. Wristbands to gain admission to all venues will cost $5, and can be purchased at the venues the night of the event, Wednesday, Aug. 24, or up to a week in advance at the Rialto box office, Plush and Biblio.
Susan is survived by her boyfriend, Daniel Rylander; mother, Evelyn Powers; dog, Lexus; sister, Jennifer Powers-Murphy; brothers, Erin and Brian; aunt, Barbara Bolton; uncle, Nelson Howell; and cousins, a nephew and a stepdaughter, Sunshine.
Friends, family and co-workers all remember Susan as an incredibly kind, caring and fun person. For example, Powers-Murphy said, Susan had an amazing tolerance for listening to people sitting next to her on airplanes talk, endlessly.
"She'd just listen to these stories, and I'd think, 'Oh my God, how can you put up with that?'" said Powers-Murphy. "She loved people. She loved animals. She loved adventure."