By Claude Jay
In a tribute to the incomparable Ms. Lena Horne, these words come to mind, Famous, Fearless and Fabulous!!! Lena Horne passed away on Sunday, May 9, at the age of 92. These words capture an essence of this great lady, singer, actor and civil rights activist.Lena Horne created, sustained and succeeded against great odds. She was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. A talent and beauty, she was destine to take paths that were hers to conquer. During her youth, racism was alive and well and defined and separated America into black and white. Discrimination was unsparingly used to try to keep African Americans in their place. Not to be stopped or deterred, Lena Horne dealt with discrimination with grace, dignity and a regal bearing. She was fearless! Her fearless determination helped her to conquer these monsters and achieve victory in spite of the odds.
She was famous! Lena Horne started at the Cotton Club as a jazz singer and dancer. She went on to sing with big bands and landed in Hollywood with an MGM Studio contract. The studio did not know what to do with this talented actress. They cast her in an all black productions of, “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather”. This was the studio’s answer to limit the extremely talented Black actors, but what resulted Hollywood classics and the stellar performances by; Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ethel Waters, Nicholas Brothers and John Bubbles and others.
I was fortunate to see Lena Horne in her one woman show on Broadway, “Lena Horne: A Lady and Her Music”, which ran for 14 months at the Nederlander Theatre and won a Tony Award and two Grammy’s. I could not believe the powerful singing and performance of Ms. Horne, a tour de force. Accompanied by her band, Ms Horne sang and told stories of her life. One story in particular was very telling of what she endured as an actress in Hollywood. She said, “I thought I was going to be cast in various films. They tested and created a make up for me, light Egyptian, and then put it on Ave Gardner and Hedy Lamarr.”
Through out her career Lena Horne experienced discrimination which lead her to get involved in the civil rights movement. She participated in the March on Washington were Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the famous speech, “I Have A Dream”. She was also friends with Paul Robeson’s and W.E.B. DuBois.
When I met Lena Horne I knew I was in the presence of royalty. She was gracious, she took time to speak with me, take pictures and sign my program. It was an honor to attend, The Lena Horne Scholarship Awards, where I met the legend and icon. The Lena Horne Scholarship Awards were presented to High School students by New York Newsday and Lincoln Center. A friend, Fred Price, who Ms. Horne referred to as Mr. P. invited me to attend the Awards presentation. Mr. Price was employed by New York Newsday and was involved with the administration of the scholarship program.
At the awards presentation, Lena Horne paid special attention to the scholarship recipients. As a singer, it was like attending a master class, as I watched Ms. Horne give the young ladies skillful, loving and encouraging comments after they sang. She was fabulous! It is my understanding from Mr. P that the various scholarship recipients have graduated from Julliard, Manhattan and Eastman Schools of Music and signed with Warner and Delta Records.
Ms. Horne’s life speaks clearly, the lady, her music and talent created a path, set standards, defied the odds and left and indelible mark on the world and a special place in our hearts. Lena Horne: Famous, Fearless and Fabulous!
What are you memories of Lena Horne?