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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92 - Claimed Pittsburgh as her second home



http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/arts/music/10horne.html?src=me&am...


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/arts/music/10horne.html?src=me&am...

Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92 -
By ALJEAN HARMETZ
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.”
Ms. Horne was stuffed into one “all-star” musical after another — “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), “Two Girls and a Sailor”
(1944), “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), “Words and Music” (1948) — to sing a song or
two that could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South,
where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient
role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.
“The only time I ever said a word to another actor who was white was Kathryn Grayson in a
little segment of ‘Show Boat’ ” included in “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), a
movie about the life of Jerome Kern, Ms. Horne said in an interview in 1990. In
that sequence she played Julie, a mulatto forced to flee the showboat because
she has married a white man.
But when MGM made “Show Boat” into a movie for the second time, in 1951, the role of Julie was given to a white actress, Ava
Gardner, who did not do her own singing. (Ms. Horne was no longer under contract
to MGM at the time, and according to James Gavin’s Horne biography, “Stormy
Weather,” published last year, she was never seriously considered for the part.)
And in 1947, when Ms. Horne herself married a white man — the prominent
arranger, conductor and pianist Lennie Hayton, who was for many years both her
musical director and MGM’s — the marriage took place in France and was kept
secret for three years.
Ms. Horne’s first MGM movie was “Panama Hattie” (1942), in which she sang Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things.” Writing
about that film years later, Pauline Kael called it “a sad disappointment,
though Lena Horne is ravishing and when she sings you can forget the rest of the
picture.”
Even before she came to Hollywood, Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The New York Times, noticed Ms. Horne in “Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of
1939,” a Broadway revue that ran for nine performances. “A radiantly beautiful
sepia girl,” he wrote, “who will be a winner when she has proper
direction.”

She had proper direction in two all-black movie musicals, both made in 1943. Lent to 20th Century Fox for “Stormy Weather,” one of those
show business musicals with almost no plot but lots of singing and dancing, Ms.
Horne did both triumphantly, ending with the sultry, aching sadness of the title
number, which would become one of her signature songs. In MGM’s “Cabin in the
Sky,” the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, she was the brazen, sexy
handmaiden of the Devil. (One number she shot for that film, “Ain’t It the
Truth,” which she sang while taking a bubble bath, was deleted before the film
was released — not for racial reasons, as her stand-alone performances in other
MGM musicals sometimes were, but because it was considered too risqué.)
In 1945 the critic and screenwriter Frank Nugent wrote in Liberty magazine that Ms.
Horne was “the nation’s top Negro entertainer.” In addition to her MGM salary of
$1,000 a week, she was earning $1,500 for every radio appearance and $6,500 a
week when she played nightclubs. She was also popular with servicemen, white and
black, during World War II, appearing more than a dozen times on the Army radio
program “Command Performance.”
“The whole thing that made me a star was the war,” Ms. Horne said in the 1990 interview. “Of course the black guys couldn’t
put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.”

Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. “So the U.S.O. got mad,” she recalled.
“And they said, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our
auspices.’ So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl.”

Ms. Horne later claimed that for this and other reasons, including her friendship
with leftists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and
“unable to do films or television for the next seven years” after her tenure
with MGM ended in 1950.
This was not quite true: as Mr. Gavin has documented, she appeared frequently on “Your Show of Shows” and other television
shows in the 1950s, and in fact “found more acceptance” on television “than
almost any other black performer.” And Mr. Gavin and others have suggested that
there were other factors in addition to politics or race involved in her lack of
film work.

Although absent from the screen, she found success in nightclubs and on records. “Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria,” recorded during
a well-received eight-week run in 1957, reached the Top 10 and became the
best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor’s history.
In the early 1960s Ms. Horne, always outspoken on the subject of civil rights, became
increasingly active, participating in numerous marches and protests.

In 1969, she returned briefly to films, playing the love interest of a white actor,
Richard Widmark, in “Death of a Gunfighter.”
She was to act in only one other movie: In 1978 she played Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz,” the film
version of the all-black Broadway musical based on “The Wizard of Oz.” But she
never stopped singing.

She continued to record prolifically well into the 1990s, for RCA and other labels, notably United Artists and Blue Note. And
she conquered Broadway in 1981 with a one-woman show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and
Her Music,” which ran for 14 months and won both rave reviews and a Tony Award.

Ms. Horne’s voice was not particularly powerful, but it was extremely expressive. She reached her listeners emotionally by acting as well as singing
the romantic standards like “The Man I Love” and “Moon River” that dominated her
repertory.
The person she always credited as her main influence was not another singer but a pianist and composer, Duke Ellington’s longtime associate
Billy Strayhorn.
“I wasn’t born a singer,” she told Strayhorn’s biographer, David Hajdu. “I had to learn a lot. Billy rehearsed me. He stretched me
vocally.” Strayhorn occasionally worked as her accompanist and, she said,
“taught me the basics of music, because I didn’t know anything.”
Strayhorn was also, she said, “the only man I ever loved,” but Strayhorn was openly gay,
and their close friendship never became a romance. “He was just everything that
I wanted in a man,” she told Mr. Hajdu, “except he wasn’t interested in me
sexually.”

Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1917. All four of her grandparents were industrious members of Brooklyn’s black middle
class. Her paternal grandparents, Edwin and Cora Horne, were early members of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in October
1919, at the age of 2, Lena was the cover girl for the organization’s monthly
bulletin.

By then the marriage of her parents, Edna and Teddy Horne, was in trouble. “She was spoiled and badly educated and he was fickle,” Ms. Horne’s
daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her family history, “The Hornes.” By 1920
Teddy had left his job with the New York Department of Labor and fled to
Seattle, and Edna had fled to a life on the stage in Harlem. Ms. Horne was
raised by her paternal grandparents until her mother took her back four years
later.
When she was 16, her mother abruptly pulled her out of school to audition for the dance chorus at the Cotton Club, the famous Harlem nightclub
where the customers were white, the barely dressed dancers were light-skinned
blacks, Duke Ellington was the star of the show and the proprietors were
gangsters. A year after joining the Cotton Club chorus she made her Broadway
debut, performing a voodoo dance in the short-lived show “Dance With Your Gods”
in 1934.
At 19, Ms. Horne married the first man she had ever dated, 28-year-old Louis Jones, and became a conventional middle-class Pittsburgh wife.
Her daughter Gail was born in 1937 and a son, Teddy, in 1940. The marriage ended
soon afterward. Ms. Horne kept Gail, but Mr. Jones refused to give up Teddy,
although he did allow the boy long visits with his mother.
In 1938, Ms. Horne starred in a quickie black musical film, “The Duke Is Tops,” for which she
was never paid. Her return to movies was on a grander scale.

She had been singing at the Manhattan nightclub Café Society when the impresario Felix
Young chose her to star at the Trocadero, a nightclub he was planning to open in
Hollywood in the fall of 1941. In 1990, Ms. Horne reminisced: “My only friends
were the group of New Yorkers who sort of stuck with their own group — like
Vincente, Gene Kelly, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Richard Whorf — the sort
of hip New Yorkers who allowed Paul Robeson and me in their houses.”
Since blacks were not allowed to live in Hollywood, “Felix Young, a white man, signed
for the house as if he was going to rent it,” Ms. Horne said. “When the
neighbors found out, Humphrey Bogart, who lived right across the street from me,
raised hell with them for passing around a petition to get rid of me.” Bogart,
she said, “sent word over to the house that if anybody bothered me, please let
him know.”
Roger Edens, the composer and musical arranger who had been Judy Garland’s chief protector at MGM, had heard the elegant Ms. Horne sing at Café
Society and also went to hear her at the Little Troc (the war had scaled Mr.
Young’s ambitions down to a small club with a gambling den on the second floor).
He insisted that Arthur Freed, the producer of MGM’s lavish musicals, listen to
Ms. Horne sing. Then Freed insisted that Louis B. Mayer, who ran the studio,
hear her, too. He did, and soon she had signed a seven-year contract with MGM.

The N.A.A.C.P. celebrated that contract as a weapon in its war to get better movie roles for black performers. Her father weighed in, too. In a 1997 PBS
interview, she recalled: “My father said, ‘I can get a maid for my daughter. I
don’t want her in the movies playing maids.’ ”
Ms. Horne is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. Her husband died in 1971; her son died of kidney
failure the same year.
Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have
to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a
first to anybody. 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.”

Peter Keepnews contributed reporting.

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Comment by DR. LEO CASINO on December 26, 2010 at 1:14pm
My father was a Hill district moonshine maker and he had a couple of ghetto casinos,Skin houses.Lena's father Teddy was a family friend.He was a frequent guest to our home. When Lena was in town she would visit us.Boy was she a queen,my brother and I would gaze for hours at her beauty.
Comment by Fumie Toki on May 13, 2010 at 1:20am
Thank you for posting this....
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on May 12, 2010 at 3:37am
Comment by Frank B. Greenlee on May 11, 2010 at 4:58pm
When Ms. Horne was performing at the Heinz Hall in 1974 I had the pleasure to interview her for WAMO/WYJZ and after I introduced myself as Frank Greenlee, she said " Child, your family.", that was a high point of my life. She was so gracious and beautiful, I will never forget that moment. God has another angel in his chorus.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on May 11, 2010 at 2:39pm
Barrier-breaking Lena Horne honed her talent in Pittsburgh

By Jason Cato
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New York born and world-renowned, Lena Horne's brief history in the Hill District left an indelible mark on Pittsburgh and solidified her as a darling of the city's golden jazz era.

"She was without a doubt the queen in Pittsburgh," said historian John M. Brewer Jr., author of books on the city's black history. "She was pretty much the queen everywhere she went, but particularly in Pittsburgh."

Horne, the first black entertainer to sign on with a major Hollywood studio, died Sunday in New York. She was 92.

"Pittsburghers claim her as one of their own, almost as if she was born and raised here," said Samuel Black, curator of African-American collections at the Sen. John Heinz History Center. "And it's not only now that they love and cherish her. They did even then."

Born in Brooklyn in 1917, Horne was 3 when her father left the family and ended up in the Hill District. Edwin "Teddy" Horne owned a small hotel on Wylie Avenue and was a contemporary of gambling kings William "Woogie" Harris, owner of Crystal Barber Shop, and William A. "Gus" Greenlee, owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Crawford Grill.

Lena Horne dropped out of school at age 16 and joined the chorus line at Harlem's fabled Cotton Club. She left in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle's orchestra.

Two years later, at age 19, she met and married one of her father's friends, Louis Jones, the son of a Pittsburgh preacher and brother of the city's first black councilman. The couple lived in the Hill District, and Horne sometimes provided entertainment at events hosted by rich families.

"I sang around at parties in Pittsburgh, for money," Horne said in a 1963 interview with Ebony magazine.

Horne's daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, and son, Teddy, were born in Pittsburgh, in 1937 and 1940, respectively. The marriage disintegrated over money problems, her daughter wrote in the book "The Hornes: An American Family." Her son died of kidney failure in 1971.

While living in Pittsburgh, Horne went to Hollywood in 1938 to make "The Duke is Tops," a film eventually released as "The Bronze Venus." She appeared on Broadway in Lew Leslie's Blackbirds in 1939 and 1940, the year she and Jones separated. Their divorce was finalized in 1944.

"It seems that Pittsburgh pretty much was an incubator for her career," Black said.

Horne's time in Pittsburgh coincided with the city's jazz heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Hill District became known as "Little Harlem," Brewer said.

"It absolutely was a must for most artists to come through Pittsburgh," Brewer said.

Those artists included Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, but Pittsburgh produced its own — including Billy Strayhorn, who grew up in Homewood and spent much of his career collaborating with Duke Ellington.

While in Los Angeles working on a project, Ellington asked Strayhorn to keep an eye on Horne. Strayhorn mentored Horne and a special friendship developed, said Strayhorn's nephew, Greg Morris. He and his wife, Thelma, lived in a Hill District house on Clarissa Street where Horne once lived.

Horne once said that she would have married Strayhorn if he'd asked. Strayhorn was openly gay.

"They were a very special couple," Morris said. "He loved her in his own way."

In the 1940s, Horne was one of the first black performers to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a few with a Hollywood contract.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical "Stormy Weather." Her rendition of the title song became a hit and her signature piece.

Horne later embraced activism, breaking loose as a voice for civil rights and as an artist. In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity.

Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," won a special Tony Award. She also won two Grammys.

Jason Cato can be reached at jcato@tribweb.com or 412-320-7840.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on May 11, 2010 at 2:35pm
The highs and lows of Miss Lena Horne

By Melissa Anderson
Newsday
Sunday, August 9, 2009

In the 1940s, the press bestowed several condescending sobriquets on Lena Horne: "sepian songstress," "beauteous bronze," "Chocolate Cream Chanteuse." She was introduced to nightclub audiences as "Miss Lena Horne." At the age of 34 in 1952, Horne referred to herself as a "dried-up old broad," a term she'd use for the next five decades before retreating from public life in 2000.

A victim of racism, an idolized singer, a performer who swung violently between self-abnegation and towering self-regard: all describe Lena Horne, brought to vivid life in 'Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne,' by James Gavin, a biographer who is gimlet-, not moon-eyed.

Gavin, the author of "Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker" and "Intimate Nights: The Golden Age of New York Cabaret," begins his study of Horne, who turned 92 last month, with memories of the legend when he interviewed her on assignment in April 1994: "Who was the real Lena Horne? Even in her 70s, she seemed confused. As for all she'd achieved, none of it seemed to bring much comfort."

Refreshingly, Gavin forgoes armchair psychology about Horne's past — her beloved, gambling father left when she was a toddler; her mother, a frustrated actress, was pathologically envious of her daughter's career — when discussing the "tangled web of victimhood" Horne often spun for herself. Certainly, Horne had much to be enraged about. She endured hateful Jim Crow laws while traveling as a singer; MGM, the studio for which she made "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), had no idea what to do with her, offering one of her dream roles, the biracial Julie in "Show Boat," to Horne's lily-white, non-singing pal Ava Gardner.

Yet sometimes, Horne simply manufactured injustices. The left-leaning performer would claim that the blacklist had kept her off television for seven years, even though "by the mid-'50s Horne had done a considerable amount of TV." And while Horne, who attended a civil-rights rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., and who called "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" her "Bible," hoped that she was "allied with the larger black struggle," she "still measured almost everything in terms of her private hurts and frustrations."

That hurt, frustration and rage were channeled into what Gavin deems Horne's true metier: her nightclub act, where "her diction was sharp as a scalpel." The chilly ferocity of Horne's performances seems to have been fueled by hate. She called nightclubs "toilets" and said of her adoring audiences, "I just didn't like them, really."

Sometimes, the disgust was self-directed: during rehearsals for the 1957 musical "Jamaica," a reporter found Horne in her dressing room, crying, "I hate myself!" When Mike Douglas praised Horne for her beauty on his talk show in 1968, the singer shot back, "I'm like that portrait of Dorian Gray. You know how lovely it was outside? You should see what's goin' on in here!"

Gavin illuminates both the outside and inside of his legendary subject, capturing the awe he felt when first meeting Horne without being blinded by it.
Comment by Dr. Nelson Harrison on May 11, 2010 at 2:32pm
Legendary singer, actress Lena Horne dies at 92

By staff and wire reports
Monday, May 10, 2010

Enchanting jazz singer and actress Lena Horne, who briefly lived in the Hill District, died Sunday in New York. She was 92.

Horne, whose striking beauty and magnetic sex appeal often overshadowed her sultry voice, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success. But she reviled the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them.

"I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," she once said. "I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked."

Horne was born in Brooklyn in 1917. She dropped out of school at age 16 to support her ailing mother and joined the chorus line at Harlem's fabled Cotton Club. She left in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle's orchestra.

Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, remarried and moved to Pittsburgh in the 1920s, buying a small hotel on Wylie Avenue.

At age 19, Lena Horne married Louis Jones — the son of a Pittsburgh reverend — and moved to the Hill District. She gave birth here to a daughter, Gail, in 1937 and a son, Teddy, in 1940, after which she left her husband and moved to New York, then Hollywood, her daughter Gail Lumet Buckley wrote in the book "The Hornes: An American Family."

In the 1940s, Lena Horne was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a handful with a Hollywood contract.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical "Stormy Weather." Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her signature piece.

She later embraced activism, breaking loose as a voice for civil rights and as an artist. In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity as a revered icon of American popular music.

Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," won a special Tony Award.

On screen, on records and in nightclubs and concert halls, Horne was at home vocally with a wide musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in songs like "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

In her first big Broadway success, as the star of "Jamaica" in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her "one of the incomparable performers of our time." Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her "the best female singer of songs."

But Horne was perpetually frustrated with the public humiliation of racism.

"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," she said in Brian Lanker's book "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

While at MGM, she starred in the all-black "Cabin in the Sky" in 1943, but in most of her other movies she appeared only in musical numbers that could be cut in the racially insensitive South without affecting the story. These included "I Dood It," a Red Skelton comedy, "Thousands Cheer" and "Swing Fever," all in 1943; "Broadway Rhythm" in 1944; and "Ziegfeld Follies" in 1946.

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.

Her father, her son and her husband, Hayton, all died in 1970-71, and the grief-stricken singer secluded herself, refusing to perform or even see anyone but her closest friends. One of them, comedian Alan King, took months persuading her to return to the stage, with results that surprised her.

"I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters," she said. "It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live."

And she discovered that time had mellowed her bitterness.

"I wouldn't trade my life for anything," she said, "because being black made me understand."
Comment by Peter Campbell on May 11, 2010 at 7:44am
It was interesting to briefly revisit some of the highspots in Lena's career. Not a jazz artist per se just a great artist who had many associations with the jazz world but was born at he wrong time when being black or, even, lighly coloured was a massive impediment to getting anywhere in life. Thankfully, we have mostly moved on from those quite disgraceful times but the process was, by no means, a quick one. Thanks for passing this on.
Peter Campbell.
Comment by Barb James on May 11, 2010 at 3:35am
She was a class act. I appreciate you sharing this biography of Lena Horne.
Comment by SOUTHSIDE JERRY MELLIX on May 10, 2010 at 6:12pm
Thanks for sharing this information, Nelson.

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