Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rant #253: Lena Come Blow Your Horne

Actress, singer, dancer and political activist Lena Horne died over the weekend. She was over 90 years old.

Horne was more than just a show business personality. She transcended a different period in our history, and segued into her later years with a style, grace and beauty that is pretty uncommon.

And let's face it, this lady was one of the most beautiful women on the planet.

She was one of the only black stars to be under contract to MGM in the 1940s. Her most famous movie was "Cabin in the Sky," and her most famous song was probably "Stormy Weather."

She really stuck out like a sore thumb during those years. But she challenged stereotypes, and more often than not, won the battles, if not the wars.

And she did it elegantly.

Horne was in the first Broadway show my parents saw after I was born, the not well remembered although very succcessful "Jamaica." Funny, last year I finally found this show on vinyl. It really doesn't hold up, as it fed into the calypso craze of the late 1950s.

But during its time, it was revolutionary. Not only did it feature an all-black cast, but the lead role was originally written for the king of calypso at the time, Harry Belafonte. When he was unavailable for the role, it was rewritten for Horne. It was nominated for best musical of 1957, and I believe Horne was also nominated.

Later on, I remember her role, as herself, on a classic episode of "Sanford and Son." Fred is on the NBC lot taking a tour, when he hears that Horne is going to be a guest on The Tonight Show. He finds her dressing room, breaks in, and one thing leads to another, and Fred invites Horne to visit his son, little "lame" Lamont. She begrudgingly agrees to visit their home in Watts.

Well, in the meantime, Fred bets his buddies that she will be there, and of course, no one believes him. She shows up, they pay up, and Fred gives all the money to her for the charity event she will be part of.

She was in her 60s then, and she looked like she was in her 30s!

Horne will be missed, not only for her presence, but for her grace in breaking down barriers of every kind.

She was a one of a kind.

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