Monday, May 10, 2010

The Final Horne

The Lady and Her Music may be gone, but they'll be far from forgotten.

That was the title of Lena Horne's one-woman Broadway show, but that was far from all she was.

She was much more than a lady and her music.

Horne died yesterday, 92 years young. And I mean that sincerely.

Horne, even near the end, had skin like porcelain and Fred Astaire eyes---they danced.

Folks used to make fun of Dick Clark for never showing his age. Lena Horne had Clark beat in a route.

Horne entertained for about 60 years and some change. She was a dynamic performer---one of those precious few whose mere presence in the room created a buzz. If you knew Lena Horne was backstage about to perform, you didn't settle back to watch---you strapped yourself in and made sure your tray was in the upright position.

Alas, Horne was another performer whose political views (read: left of center) got her blacklisted during the Red Scare. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington in 1963 and was quite the Civil Rights activist, in her own inimitable way.

Her ethnicity was a spicy blend of African-American, European, and Native American.



The Lady


Horne started belting them out at the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem, way back in 1933. Her career path would eventually lead her to Hollywood, but she would grow disenchanted in Tinsel Town and focus primarily on her nightclub act.

In a comeback of sorts, Horne won a special Tony Award for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music in 1981. The show gave her a record she still holds today: longest-running solo performance in Broadway history.

But this was also a woman who worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to help pass anti-lynching laws in the 1940s, and who would refuse to perform with the USO for segregated audiences.

Last but not least, there was the voice. If you listened closely, Lena Horne's voice would wink at you. I swear it.

"As much as I try," Horne used to say, "when I open my mouth, Lena comes out, And I get so mad."

She was a little hard on herself, don't you think?

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