Monday, May 10, 2010

Lovely Lena

The elegant, outspoken, singer, dancer, actress and activist passed away yesterday at the age of 92. The multiple Grammy winner, born to a middle class family in Brooklyn, first got her start as a teen in the chorus line at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem in the 1930s, toured with bands and then in the early 40s moved to Hollywood and some fame in  the films "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather" - that's where I first heard of her - watching it on television one night and was bewitched by this captivating creature.

Lena produced many recordings in addition to her film and TV work and was a longtime friend of the great Billy Strayhorn.

Unfortunately her political views got her blacklisted in the 1950s and she returned to nightclub shows. She took part in the March on Washington and continued to actively perform including appearances on variety shows and TV - including "The Cosby Show", and a special with Harry Belafonte - a fellow activist -  a very well received Broadway show "Lena Horne - the Lady and her Music" - after her supposed retirement in 1980 and for which she won a Tony award which was among her many accolades and honours.

Lena wanted the part of Julie in the musical "Show Boat" but was nixed as the studio was wary of interracial romance on film - the part went to Ava Gardner with the singing dubbed. It was unfortunate because of the times Lena could have been an even bigger star.

More than just a pretty face she was long a Civil Rights activist - she was a pinup for black GI's and had to perform for segregated audiences - at one point walking offstage when she thought she was performing to an integrated audience - which turned out to be black servicemen and German POWs.  Thank you for your music and your beautiful soul, Miss Horne.

I hear a film bio may be in the works - produced by Oprah and starring Alicia Keys?
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