A distant relative of Gaetano Donizetti, he was named Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-Demelli at birth, he simplified and Germanized his name when he moved to Vienna. As a teenager in Cremona, Suppé studied flute and harmony. Suppé's first extant composition is a Roman Catholic Mass, premiered at a Franciscan church in Zara. He moved to Padua to enroll at the University there to study law, the field of study chosen by his father. But he continued to study music furtively. Upon the death of his father, he moved to Vienna where his mother had moved to earlier. After studying with Ignaz Seyfried and Simon Sechter, he conducted the Josephstadt theater, without pay at first, but with the opportunity to present his operas there. Eventually, Suppé wrote music for over a hundred productions at Josephstadt as well as at Leopoldstadt, at the Theater an der Wien, and a theater at Baden. He also put on some landmark opera productions, such as the 1846 production of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots with Jenny Lind. Suppé was also a singer, making his debut in the role of Dulcamara in Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore at the Ödenburg theater in 1842.
Two of Suppé's comic operas have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Boccaccio and Donna Juanita, but they failed to become repertoire works. Though the bulk of Suppé's operas have nearly sunken to oblivion, the overtures, particularly Light Cavalry and Poet & Peasant, have survived and some of them have been used in all sorts of soundtracks for movies, cartoons, advertisements, etc., in addition to being played at "pops" concerts. The operas are occasionally performed in Europe, and Peter Branscombe, writing in the Grove dictionary, characterizes Suppé's song Des ist mein Österreich as "Austria's second national song".
After retiring from conducting, Suppé continued to write operas, but shifted his focus to sacred music. He also wrote a Requiem for theater director Franz Pokorny, three Masses, songs, symphonies and concert overtures.