Lena Horne died May 9, 2010 at age 92. I've always greatly admired her as a jazz singer, movie actress and performer. One of her most appealing qualities to me was her fierce independence. I never saw her perform in person but would have welcomed such an opportunity. She was outspoken becoming very active in the sixties civil rights movement.
The very first theater movie I can remember seeing when I was eight or nine years old, alone at an afternoon matinee without adult accompaniment, was Cabin In The Sky in which Lena Horne appeared. I thought she was beautiful, sensual, with a unique singing style and vocal quality that resonated with me. I didn't know anybody whose looks, gestures, could communicate so much sensuous feeling with such rhythmic graceful body movement. She continued to do so on those rare occasions in succeeding years when I would see her in other feature films as well. A later movie "Stormy Weather" with a title song of the same name became her signature song.
I recall reading some years ago of the friendship she had with the actress Ava Gardner; how they both were auditioning at the MGM movie studio for the lead in "Showboat." Studio heads reportedly thought the viewing public wouldn't accept this 'negro' or 'colored person' (as her race was referred to then.) Consequently Ava was given the roll, then frustratingly said she was constantly admonished by producers that somehow she was supposed to "sing like Lena." I knew nothing of that movie casting dynamic then, or of racial casting inequities bandied about in the entertainment world. Here's Lena singing in 1967 "You'd Better Love Me While You May."
A CBS tribute to newsman Ed Bradley following his death several years ago included his favorite interview which was with Lena Horne when she was in her mid-sixties.
In later years I relished viewing Lena Horne: A Lady and Her Music a recording of her 1980's one-woman hit Broadway Show. She was in her seventies but, as ever, had class, style, conveying confidence and pride, sensuality while demonstrating a physical agility in such a way that could make very woman envious.
Newsman Ed Bradley's interview with her, a segment of which was replayed in the CBS Television tribute to him upon his death elicited just the right tone I would have expected in her response to him. This YouTube Bradley/Horne interview is about 2 minutes in length 5.44 minutes into the recording.
PBS News Hour showcased interviews with Ms Horne when she was 80. Included is Margaret Warner's with jazz singer Nancy Wilson in 1997 mostly about Horne's civil rights and racial significance.
Lena Horne was a 1984 recipient of Kennedy Center Honors and their website features her biography:
Visit "Here In The Hills" blog Monday May 10th which features a lovely tribute along with a link to a fascinating piece written a few years ago by another musical talent.
Here's Lena Horne singing "Moon River":