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Remembering Lena Horne
Stormy weather and an extraordinary life. We remember legendary singer and actress Lena Horne.
 

Lena Horne is shown in a Broadway production "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music" in New York, April 30, 1981. Horne, who broke racial barriers as a Hollywood and Broadway star, has died at age 92. (AP)

Picture a Halle Berry beauty who could sing, a Beyonce who couldn’t buy a cup of coffee in pre-Civil Rights era America, and you begin to get a take on Lena Horne. 

She came up dazzling out of Harlem’s Cotton Club, and she was the first black performer to sign a longterm contract with a major Hollywood studio. 

Then she saw her parts clipped out in Southern theaters, and the role she most wanted go to Ava Gardner in brown face. 

When Lena Horne sang “Stormy Weather,” she knew what she was singing about. This week, she died at 92. 

This Hour, On Point: the life and art of Lena Horne.

Guest:

James Gavin, music journalist and author. His new book, “Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne,” is just out in paperback.

Renee Graham, music critic and former pop culture correpondent for the Boston Globe.

Maya Angelou, one of America’s most renowned writers and poets. She is professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University and author of numerous books, including “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” Her latest book is “Letter to My Daughter.”

Here’s a playlist for the songs aired during this hour:

“Just One of Those Things”

“Stormy Weather”

“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”

“Love of My Life”

“Tomorrow Mountain”

“Come Runnin’”

“I Got Rhythm”

“I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face”

“I Got a Name”

“Summertime”

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  • jim thompson

    Tom:

    Lena Horne, just so marvelous. Check out on Youtube the clips of Lena Horne singing with Judy Garland on the Judy Garland Show… simply a pair of divine Godesses. We should be so thankful to have had these talents for our enjoyment. It is our luck that true talents like Lena are immortalized on audio and video.

  • Melissa Hood

    Tom & guests:
    As a child that grew up in the 70′s and 80′s, I knew Ms Horne as the beautiful woman with the amazing voice whom appeared on Sesame Street and The Cosby Show. I was ignorant of her history, her strength and her courage. Thank you for providing a glimpse of this amazing woman’s story on your show today.

  • Kristin Cutler

    I am thirty seven and my first memory of Lena Horne was on Sesame Street. She was a regular guest and can still be seen on youtube. I remember loving her a little girl. What a beautiful woman.
    thank you for the show.

  • Marina Hackett

    I remember seeing Ms. Horne on television, I think it might have been PBS, where she sang a song from “The Wiz,” “Believe.” That song, and especially the manner in which she performed it, was profoundly impactful. How could one not believe in oneself after such an experience? There are times of doubt when I still hear her, “..believe in yourself as I believe in you.”

  • Steven

    Tom,

    James Gavin’s comments are ridiculous! Of course films in the 1930′s-40′s created black scenes that could be removed for Southern viewing.

    I am shocked that you aren’t challenging Mr. Gavin’s defense of MGM as a “progressive” movie studio.

    His book released in 2009 is opportunistic and ghoulish…

  • steve

    Tom:

  • j.d. smith

    Lena’s appearance in “Cabin in The Sky” as Georgia Brown was a standout performance by any measure. How is it she was perceived as as not being able to deliver lines? She practically stole the show from Ethel Waters.

  • steve graves

    Tom I not unlike Lena am a mixed raced person, when I first saw her I fell in love not because of the external beauty, not because of her amazing talent, but I was sure that I was looking at someone who has truly walked alongside of my pain, and would be capable of deep understanding and insight. People like she and I have had few if any allies because of the potential threat to so many standing ideologies of race and appearance, many of which still have not changed.

    We often speak of adversity, strength, and brilliance, but Ms. Horne has never received appropriate accolades as a leader and a hero.

    Thank you for the celebration

  • jim thompson

    Lena Horne…talent, an extrodinary woman with elan and panache. All delivered with POW!!!

  • jonah

    What unmidigated nonsense from gavin. MGM clearly and obviously discriminated against Horne. To attempt to absolve them of there contribution to racism and segregation is typical of how these guys do revinist history by in general critizing the evil but absolving all those who contributed to it. By the way, the reference to a african/american by “miss”, as in Miss lena horne, was part of the way Afro/americans were set apart and not described as a Euro/american woman would have been called.

    To say that, after all, she was not that good an actress is part of the mishistory. Since when was acting ability a criteria for Hollywood? Ever heard of lana turner, jane russell, betty grable not to mention Ava Gardner (who also could not even sing) who was given the afro/american role in Showboat that Jerome Kern, its writer, wanted Horne to play?

  • Margaret Altman

    In 1933, California amended its anti-miscegenation law to state that any marriage of Caucasians with “negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes to be illegal and void.”

  • Susan

    Hi Tom

    I was at that same concert you were in the Berkshires where Lena Horne performed. One of my only trips to Tanglewood.

    Sue from Milton

  • RICH

    I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO LENA HORNE ON SESAME STREET AS A CHILD (IN THE 70′S). I WAS ENAMORED (BEFORE I EVEN KNEW WHAT THAT MEANT) BY HER VOICE, DEMEANOR AND BEAUTY. SHE WON’T BE FORGETTEN.

  • Sue Henry

    I grew up in NH with parents who loved anything jazz. While we lived in a white state of mind, I remember well all those albums with her face smiling out at me. In the early 80′s, I stumbled upon a basement bar in the Holiday Inn on Lakeshore Drive. I was 30 years old and traveling for business on my own… There before my eyes, was Miss Horn… singing.. live!!! I had absolutely no idea of how difficult her career had been because of bigotry and racism… I just knew her music from my color blind parents….

    Her passing should be a national day of mourning for someone who fought for the recognition she so well deserved…

  • Kung Fu

    I used to be a Lena Horne fan until I found out that she was a pinko-commie-liberal and that she identified with Malcolm X. Kudos to On Point for outing her.

  • timothy mccormick

    the operative description of lena horne may be all the things you have mentioned; but her ability to make me feel that she performed personally for me and was willing to reveal her person, her self, will always make her my sister.

  • Steve

    I saw Maya Angelou in the mid ’80′s in Milwaukee, WI.

    I think she was nearing 60 years old.

    She shimmied onto stage and her first words…(I hope my memory does her justice)

    …”when skinny women see me they die of envy”…

    Made quite a memorable impression on a skinny, white boy in his 20′s about what it means to be human.

  • Jay

    I found this to be a very boring and irrelevant On Point segment, but this is NPR.

  • jeffe

    No Glenn it seems Fu is being serious. Kung fu you’re such a man, talking ill of the deceased.

    Lena Horn at least made a contribution to humanity and did something useful with her life. How about you? What have you done that made a difference?

  • http://none Robert (Bob) Baer Bradley

    Dear Mr. Ashbrook, Tom, this is to thank and congratulate you on keeping ‘real radio’, in all its unique virtues, alive..at a time when accountants have replaced broadcasters as controllers of the medium-not for the perpetuation of the benefits delivered to the public via radio’s virtues, but for purposes of only greed.
    Thanks, becasue it brings back memories of my father’s ’40′s real radio production and performances and congrats for finding a way to deliver real radio to the public.
    I entered the business many years ago, having been vaccinated by my father’s execution and enjoyment of it.
    The siren song of sales diverted me, but, oh, how now, at 67, I’d love to re-enter it as my ultimate professional focus!
    I shall attempt to do so on KCLU on which i have been fortunate to catch your show.
    Best, best regards,
    Bob Bradley

  • Marianne Mishima

    I was disappointed with guest James Gavin. He was patronizing; saying for instance, “She was an angry lady”. Yes, Gavin, she had a right to be angry. He also maintained Horne brought much of her challenges on herself with “self-impose” insecurity. He contends it was her lack of talent, and somehow sub par personality that was to blame; not rampant racism and discrimination. He talked of her with disdain. I wonder why Ashbrook and On Point chose a man who spoke with such distaste. I honor fairness and objectivity ( if that exists) but this author was extremely biased. Perhaps a little too soon after he death to be bashing Lena Horne.

  • MiMi

    I listen to your tribute to Lena Horne last night as I was driving home.I was so touched.Lena was one of the most BeaUTiful women in the world.She aged with Grace.

    I definetly kept abreast of Lena Horne even when she went into seclusion.I never missed any of her shows(on TV)documentaries and anything that was written about her…

    I first discovered Lena Horne when I was a small child in 1960′s.She was on the cover of Ebony Magazine,it said Lena at 50! I was stunned to see someone look so much like my mother,I almost though they were sisters(Mom has no siblings)I was stunned to see someone look that good,that BeaUTiful at fifty.Mom has all Lena Horne magazine covers and albums!
    I come from the same family backgroud(middle-upper class educated New Yokers who strive to make things better for their people) as Lena Horne so I and my extended family can relate to her struggles as a mix race woman.There are advantages and disadvantages.I almost considered it a curse that I finally grew to love….just like Lena Horne.
    God Bless you Ms. Horne and your family.You gave your all to this country.Condolences to your family!

  • Pat

    Mr. Gavin didn’t criticize Ms. Horne for being angry; he very specifically stated that she should be celebrated as the determined trailblazer she was in the fight against racist policies in U.S.O. shows, Vegas clubs, and elsewhere. His comment that “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” became Ms. Horne’s bible was obviously not intended to “out her as a pinko-commie-liberal”, but, rather, to identify her correctly, and not pejoratively, as a radical civil rights campaigner. Mr. Gavin commented on the “enormous eloquence and intelligence” of her work at the NAACP rally in Jackson and the “commitment and passion” she shared with “Today” show audiences as she discussed the assassination of Medgar Evans.

  • Jeff

    James Gavin spoke the truth. He gave it right back to Maya Angelou when she attempted to have the last word. Like Lena, Gavin is proud: he’s done the research. We’re lucky to have a writer like Gavin who has devoted his career to celebrating the art of singing expressively.

  • Marc Milkin

    In the days before I knew much of anything (some may question if that condition has seen much change), I was introduced to Lena Horne. I knew about Lena Horne. I could have been called an avid fan.

    My freshly colleged group of old friends and I had been steeping in NY showbiz culture, and all of jazz was in our playbook. These were the return to forever days. Birdland was the song of the night. I had worked at a tapehouse in ’77 dubbing their whole library, which included “Stormy Weather”. When we would jam, my friends and I, we played “Stormy Weather”.

    Picture a beautiful spring morning near the DGA on 57th street in NY.

    10:30 a.m. quality of daylight. Can you picture it?

    My friend Gail Brown had introduced me to a fashion designer named Giorgio Sant’ Angelo. http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/Ro-Sm/Sant-Angelo-Giorgio.html. ,
    and I was doing some bricolage and set design around his studio/showroom.

    There was a client fitting that morning. The client walked in. Lena Horne. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMgO5PtlYVk

    (Remember, I didn’t know much, so classy self-composure was not my forte…yet……….).
    I dropped the pipe fittings I had been futzing with.

    I came down off the ladder and into the crisp, clean, sunlit surroundings of Giorgio’s showroom. The three of them approached me. Giorgio, Martin; his business manager and boyfriend, and Lena. Giorgio was a very kind person. In fact, all of them were. The whole halcyon moment was bathed in grace and beauty.

    “Marc…..(with an accent), I would like to introduce you to Lena Horne”. With as much gracious consideration as I could in overalls: “It is my great pleasure to meet you Miss Horne”. I extended my hand. She took my hand: “It is mine too, Marc”

    There is no way to duplicate in words the sound of her voice and soft accent. Where the hell was that accent from…?

    heaven.

    They went on to their fitting and I went back to my fittings.

    30 minutes later, our paths crossed again. …..She spoke to me again….this time she was transformed by one of Giorgio’s masterpieces from her eggshell street clothing into a bejewelled bird in black and aqua. She looked beautiful with the halcyon mist around her. Then she talked to me….

    “Well…what do you think, Marc…..?” (I liked that part about her always using my name). I answered, they smiled, and then she noticed my watch. My father had given me his blue and red stainless Seiko sports watch. The noisy stainless wristband was loose, and oversized too…

    “My….what a big timepiece you have there, Marc”. Verbatim. Was my game called? (Remember, I didn’t know much, so it was all pretty much brain-to-mouth without filtration). I responded out-of-bodily, mischievously pointing at the watch on my left wrist, I had eyebrows in those days….

    “This is how I tell the Big Time, Lena”……………………………….and I winked…….

    No awkward moment…..They all laughed….

    Her soprano laughter sounded like springtime.

  • Black Fist

    Fuck you!

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