Monday, May 10, 2010

Legend Lena Horne Passes Away at 92

At the African-American Books Examiner,
Two Books on Lena Horne

The New York Times and other news sources report that Lena Horne died last night, Sunday, Mother's Day 2010.

Lena Horne, who was the first black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer, died on Sunday night at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She was 92 and lived in Manhattan.

Her death was announced by her son-in-law, Kevin Buckley.

Ms. Horne might have become a major movie star, but she was born 50 years too early, and languished at MGM in the 1940s because of the color of her skin, although she was so light-skinned that, when she was a child, other black children had taunted her, accusing her of having a “white daddy.” ... Read Obituary at NYT
The NYT obituary continues with facts about her life such as her marriage in 1947 to Lennie Hayton, a white man. They were married in France and the union was kept secret for three years, according to the Times. I think most of the pieces you'll read about her life will talk about her great beauty and talent and how her success was limited by her being born during segregation. Still, Ms. Horne lived fully.

Her death, nevertheless, struck me more deeply than expected because two days ago I was looking at photos of her, thinking how well she's been doing in her 90s, and then the thought crossed my mind that she wouldn't be with us much longer. When I saw this news on my Blackberry, I leapt up and went to my computer to share this quick post, acknowledging her life. She was something else, very classy.

I still prefer her rendition of "Stormy Weather," from the 1943 movie by the same name, over other versions. I'm a fan of musicals, and after watching so much Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, I glued myself to the TV if I saw black people in a Hollywood musical.

The AP obituary includes a story I've heard elsewhere about Max Factor creating a make-up just for her:
A movie offer from MGM came when she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers in 1942.

Her success led some blacks to accuse Horne of trying to "pass" in a white world with her light complexion. Max Factor even developed an "Egyptian" makeup shade especially for the budding actress while she was at MGM.

But in his book "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance: A Pictorial History of Film Musicals," Kobal wrote that she refused to go along with the studio's efforts to portray her as an exotic Latin American.

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

Horne was only 2 when her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP. But she avoided activism until 1945 when she was entertaining at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting up front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.

That pivotal moment channeled her anger into something useful.

She got involved in various social and political organizations and — along with her friendship with Paul Robeson — got her name onto blacklists during the red-hunting McCarthy era.(AP)
My mother always spoke highly of her whenever she came on television in later years as I was growing up.

According to Regret the Error, Entertainment Tonight erroneously reported Ms. Horne's passing December 2008.

I conclude with more videos of her, one on the Dean Martin Show in 1967. This is the Lena I would have grown up seeing. And below that is her 1997 GAP commercial followed by her Rosie O'Donnell interview.

In this 1997 interview, Ms. Horne was about to celebrate her 80th birthday.

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