Friday, May 14, 2010

LEGENDARY: Lena Horne, Our Bronze Venus (1919-2010)

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne
Singer, Actress, Civil Rights Activist
(June 30, 1917 - May 9, 2010)

Stormy Weather was the first all-Black classic film that I had ever seen (and helped to establish my love for Black classic films). When I was a kid, the local television station would, once or twice a year, air this classic, and I would stop whatever I was doing to watch it. My favorite part was when Lena Horne's character, "Selena Rogers", sang Ms. Horne's signature song, "Stormy Weather" as the great Katherine Dunham danced in the background. Like everyone else, I was in awe of her beauty and the classy way she carried herself. Ms. Horne as a glamourous, sophisticated leading lady was a welcomed depature to the maid and "mammy" roles I was accustomed to seeing Black actors play when watching films from yesteryear.

It wasn't until I got older, and read more about Ms. Horne, that I learned that she was more than a pretty face. She was a pioneer who broke barriers for Black performers, becoming the first Black actor to sign a contract with a major Hollywood studio. Ms. Horne was also a fierce advocate for Civil Rights, working with Paul Robeson (which caused her to be blacklisted during McCarthy's Red Scare), refusing to perform for segregated audiences at USO performances, participating in the March on Washington in 1963 and, my personal favorite, throwing at lamp at a customer who made a racial slur at a Beverly Hills restaurant. In Brian Lanker's book, "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America", Ms. Horne said, "I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out. ... It was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world".

Thank you, Ms. Horne, our Bronze Venus, for showing the world that Black is beautiful, strong, elegant, classy and courageous.

"I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else." - Lena Horne

Suggested Reading:

The Hornes: An American Family  by Gail Lumet Buckley


Corey @ I'll Keep You Posted said...

I know Mama Lena was 93 years old and all, but I tell you, her passing really broke my heart! She was the LAST OF THE GREAT ONES! A pioneer! A lady of beauty, class, elegance and style! And a DAMNED FINE VOCALIST, too! I'm not saying she was perfect - how many of us are - but she was close to it!

We Shall Overcome.....In Couture! said...

I totally agree, Corey. I am in love with that era of entertainment, and it's so said to see it disappear. I believe Herb Jeffries (aka The Bronze Buckaroo) is still with us. If you're not familiar with his work, I suggest you check his movies out.