Spotlight on Lena Horne

 

 

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30 1917 and grew up in an upper middle class black bourgeois community. Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, who worked in the gambling trade, left the family when Lena was three. Her mother, Edna Scottron, was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron; she was an actress with an African American theatre troupe and travelled extensively. She was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.



After a false start headlining a 1938 musical race movie called The Duke is Tops, Horne became the first African American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, namely Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her debut with MGM in 1942's Panama Hattie and became famous in 1943 for her rendition of Stormy Weather in the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM).



She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a leading role due to her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be reedited for showing in southern states where theatres could not show films with African American performers. As a result, most of Horne's film appearances were standalone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, though even then one of her numbers had to be cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors.

Stormy Weather did feature Horne in a major acting role, with a more substantial part than what she had inCabin in the Sky, but as noted, this was not an MGM musical. She was originally considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version ofShow Boat (having already played the role when a segment ofShow Boat was performed inTill the Clouds Roll By) but Ava Gardner was given the role instead (the production code office had banned interracial relationships in films). In the documentaryThat's Entertainment! III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using recordings of Horne performing the songs, which offended both Horne and Gardner (ultimately, Gardner ended up having her singing voice overdubbed by another actress for the theatrical release, though her own voice was heard on the soundtrack album).



Disenchanted with Hollywood by the mid-1950s, and increasingly focused on her nightclub career, she only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950 'sDuchess of Idaho (which was also Eleanor Powell 's film swan song), and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. However it is important to point out also that, according to a PBS documentary, she was blacklisted during the 1950s for her political views. She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire Quintana in the 1969 filmDeath of a Gunfighter, Glinda the Good Witch inThe Wiz (1978), with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson , and co-hosting the aforementioned 1994 MGM retrospectiveThat's Entertainment! III  in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio. During the mid 70's, she made an appearance onThe Muppet Show where she sang with Kermit the Frog.



She appeared in Broadway musicals several times and in 1958 was nominated for the Tony Award for "Best Actress in a Musical" (for her part in the "Calypso " musicalJamaica)  In 1981 she received a Special Tony Award for her show,Lena Horne: "The Lady and Her Music" . She also made occasional TV appearances, such as a guest appearance as herself onSanford and Son in the 70s and a mid-1980s performance onThe Cosby Show. In 1989, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.



In 1994, she released the albumWe'll Be Together Again featuring many songs written by her friends Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Included in this project isDay Follows Day a duet with Johnny Mathis. In general, Horne has been disinclined to record duets.

 

EMI are excited to be releasing
“The Best of Lena Horne”
on 2nd July

 

 CD1

    1. On A Wonderful Day Like Today    
    2. I Wanna Be Around        
    3. Feelin' Good             
    4. Willow Weep For Me       
    5. The Girl From Ipanema    
    6. Softly As I Leave You            
    7. And I Love Him           
    8. Hello, Young Lovers             
    9. Singin' In The Rain     
    10. Somewhere       
    11. Wives And Lovers         
    12. It Had Better Be Tonight         
    13. Moon River       
    14. A Fine Romance   
    15. I Love Paris     
    16. It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
    17. I Got a Worried Man      
    18. Wonder What I'm Gonna Do         
    19. Love Bug         
    20. What the World Needs Now Is Love         
    21. Unchained Melody         

       CD2

    1. Prelude To A Kiss       
    2. Day Follows Day         
    3. Old Friend      
    4. You’re The One   
    5. I’ll Always Leave The Door A Little Open         
    6. I’ve Got To Have You     
    7. Come Runnin'    
    8. Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me        
    9. I've Got The World On A String           
    10. We'll Be Together Again          
    11. The Lady Is A Tramp      
    12. Some Of My Best Friends Are The Blues    
    13. As Long As I Live        
    14. Autumn In New York       
    15. Sleepin’ Bee    
    16. How Long Has This Been Going On?        
    17. Maybe    
    18. Something To Live For    
    19. Stormy Weather   

Notes
Lena Horne is a living legend. She is not only a unique, sophisticated song stylist and actress, who has entertained the public for 65 years, she is also a cultural icon who has helped to advance the cause of civil rights in the USA, and has rightfully received widespread acclaim from her peers and from the public.



Features the best tracks from 3 Classic United Artists albums performing popular standards of the day: ‘Feelin' Good’, 1965; ‘Lena In Hollywood’, 1966; ‘Soul’, 1966; and 4 critically acclaimed, jazz flavoured, Blue Note albums from later on in her distinguished career: ‘We'll Be Together Again’, 1994; ‘An Evening with Lena Horne’, 1995; ‘Being Myself’, 1998 and ‘Seasons Of A Life’, 2006

 

 

 

 

 

PREVIOUS SPOTLIGHT GUESTS

Missing Media

George Martin

Dusty Springfield

Richard Moore

Tommy Bruce

Alma Cogan

Kathy Kirby

Tony Bennet

Johnny Mathis

Joe Longthorne

Frank Sinatra

Sammy Davis Jr.

Dean Martin

Nelson Riddle

Tony Christie

Nat King Cole

Steve Woof

Matt Monro Jnr.

Roy Leslie

Ken Dodd

Julie London

Sid Feller