Monday, May 10, 2010

Stormy Weather, Indeed ... RIP Lena Horne

It was sad to discover, via multiple posts, the passing of actress, and Jazz singer, Lena Horne.

I have a handful of her albums (well, now, CD's) and she had a lovely voice, you knew, from the first note or two, that it was Lena Horne singing, so soft, or sultry.

Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92

Ms. Horne was stuffed into one “all-star” musical after another — “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), “Words and Music” (1948) — to sing a song or two that could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South, where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.


Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. “So the U.S.O. got mad,” she recalled. “And they said, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.’ So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl.”

Ms. Horne later claimed that for this and other reasons, including her friendship with leftists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and “unable to do films or television for the next seven years” after her tenure with MGM ended in 1950.


Ms. Horne’s voice was not particularly powerful, but it was extremely expressive. She reached her listeners emotionally by acting as well as singing the romantic standards like “The Man I Love” and “Moon River” that dominated her repertory. The person she always credited as her main influence was not another singer but a pianist and composer, Duke Ellington’s longtime associate Billy Strayhorn.

“I wasn’t born a singer,” she told Strayhorn’s biographer, David Hajdu. “I had to learn a lot. Billy rehearsed me. He stretched me vocally.” Strayhorn occasionally worked as her accompanist and, she said, “taught me the basics of music, because I didn’t know anything.”


Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

While that be the standard, boiler-plate obit, we found a few people that came to Lena Horne via other routes.

Like, Edward Copeland;
I know why there's no sun up in the sky and that's because the world has lost the irreplaceable Lena Horne at the age of 92. The actress/singer who helped to break down racial barriers by becoming the first African-American performer to receive a major Hollywood studio contract passed away Sunday night in a Manhattan hospital.


The bulk of her career was spent taking that sultry voice to concert halls or appearing as herself in other venues such as That's Entertainment III and sitcoms such as A Different World, The Cosby Show and a particularly memorable Sanford & Son, where Fred tricked her into coming to his house claiming that Lamont was his young, terminally ill child.

Or, Melissa McEwan;
I know the exact moment I saw Lena Horne for the first time. I was 11, and she made a guest appearance on "The Cosby Show," as herself, in an episode where Claire (Phylicia Rashad) took Cliff (Bill Cosby) to see her perform for his birthday. I remember thinking how beautiful and glamorous she was, and falling utterly in love with her voice, which has remained to this day one of my absolute favorites—totally recognizable, totally unmistakable, totally butter.

That hits it, "totally butter."

And, while a bevy of people posted her signature tune, "Stormy Weather" (Dave Itzkoff, over on the NYT Artsbeat, additionally posted a nice one, of Lena Horne and Kermit the Frog singing "It Ain't Easy Being Green"), we took the nod from our friend Dee Dee Gordon, who went with, a classic, a Jazz standard, written by Michael Legrand, for "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite tunes).

It's a gem ...

Lena Horne with Gabor Szabo - Watch What Happens (Revised)

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