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Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne 1917-2010

A very sad day indeed for lovers of classic pop and jazz. The woman who was perhaps the last of the great pre-1945 vocalists has left us for good. After years of being out of the public eye due to failing health, the legendary Lena Horne has passed on at the age of 92.

Starting out as a Cotton Club singer in the 1930s, Horne would later go on to superstardom in Hollywood during the 1940s, and put out a string of iconic recordings typified by the timeless Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler composition "Stormy Weather", which became something of a theme song. Her career was hurt by her left-leaning view in the 1950s and her strong support of civil rights in the 1960s, but she remained one of the most popular practitioners of popular song nevertheless.

Raised in an upper middle-class family of mixed racial descent, she spent her childhood in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh and Atlanta before joining the Cotton Club chorus girls. She was a vocalist for a few big bands at the height of the big band craze, most notably that of Charlie Barnet, before signing a recording deal with RCA Victor in 1941.

Her stunning looks helped assure her a career in Hollywood, and she made memorable appearances in films like the all-black Cabin in the Sky, as well as Ziegfeld Follies. She would later focus on intimate nightclub performance throughout the 1950s and 1960s, maintaining a high public profile despite her politics thanks to becoming a regular on a plethora of talk shows, including the Tonight Show and Ed Sullivan.

Lena remained a titan of American popular music well into the rock era, and even enjoyed a long-running one-woman show on Broadway in the early 1980s. During the 1990s, there was talk of an entire album of duets with Frank Sinatra, but sadly, throat surgery rendered the Sinatra project impossible, and health issues led Ms. Horne to retire in 1998.

The amazing Lena Horne will forever be remembered by anyone to whom great music matters. Her voice is instantly recognizable, and thankfully we have it preserved for all time in immortal recordings like "Love Me or Leave Me", "It's Love", "Ill Wind", "More", "The Man I Love", "You're My Thrill" and "Let Me Love You". She was the personification of class, sophistication and effortless beauty--a rare link to our musical heritage that will be sorely missed.

Lena Horne passed away yesterday in Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is survived by her daughter, best-selling author Gail Lumet Buckley, as well as her granddaughter, screenwriter Jenny Lumet.


emma wallace said...

I was so sad to hear about it! Not only was her voice stunning and memorable but she was beyond gorgeous. Thank you for the beautiful post.


B-Sol said...

You're welcome, Emma. Lena deserves to be remembered. What an unforgettable talent.

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