Spotlight on ……

Lena Horne



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.


Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn on June 30th 1917, and when her parents separated in 1920, her actress mother and grandmother brought her up. She was greatly influenced by the latter, whom she described as “A civil rights activist and suffragette in the early days”. Lena started her long association with show business at the age of sixteen, when she was hired at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem, firstly as a dancer, then in the chorus and finally as a solo singer. She spent the next five years appearing in New York nightclubs, performing with many of the era’s top bands, and mixing with the likes of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. On relocating to Hollywood towards the end of the Thirties Lena was spotted by MGM and, after making it clear she would not play any stereotypical African American female roles, signed a long-term deal with them. This made her the first African American actress to achieve such a contract, thus making her the equal of close friend Paul Robeson. Lena made her film debut in the 1938 musical The Duke Is Tops, and after joining MGM appeared in many movies including Cabin In The Sky and Stormy Weather. It was the latter title song that became her best-loved recording and her theme song. “Black stars were made to feel uncomfortable in Hollywood in the 1940s”, Lena recalled. “MGM may not have made me into a maid, but they didn’t make me into anything else either” she added. However, these films did help to turn the attractive actress and singer into an international star and a

pin-up for both black and white servicemen during World War II.


Like Paul Robeson, her civil rights activism saw her blacklisted during much of the fifties and for a while she was unable to perform on television or in movies. Her marriage to second husband, white Jewish American Lennie Hayton (the premier musical conductor and arranger with M.G.M) also shocked many in that decade of widespread racism. However, her nightclub work, recordings for RCA Victor, and her Tony nominated performance in the 1958 musical Jamaica kept her firmly in the public eye.


During the sixties, as you will hear on this Collection, she made some of her best recordings, but after the death of her father, husband and son in the early seventies she went into virtual retirement until resurfacing in 1978 to star alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in

The Wiz. In 1981, Lena returned triumphantly to the stage with a one woman show:

Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music. It ran for over a year and garnered her a special Tony award and a Grammy for ‘Best Cast Show Album’. She also returned to the Grammy Awards in 1989 to pick up the prestigious ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. Lena’s live appearances since then have been limited, but her recording career thrived again when she joined Blue Note Records in 1994, and it is reported that her life story will be made into a TV biography, with Alicia Keys linked to the lead role.


This collection of classic Lena Horne tracks features her most outstanding recordings from both the sixties and the nineties. The first eight tracks come from the 1965 album ‘Feelin’ Good’, and include her unique interpretations of many sixties songs that are now regarded as standards, such as I WANNA BE AROUND, the touching SOFTLY AS I LEAVE YOU, THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA, Lennon and McCartney’s melodic AND I LOVE HIM and the title song FEELIN’ GOOD. The next seven tracks come from the same year and first appeared on her movie themes album Lena in Hollywood. These film favourites span the decades and include standout renditions of A FINE ROMANCE from the 1936 film Swing Time, her unusual arrangement of ‘SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN’ from the 1952 movie of that name, and the then recent Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer compositions ‘MOON RIVER’ from Breakfast At Tiffany’s and IT HAD BETTER BE TONIGHT from The Pink Panther. Lena also takes the memorable movie songs SOMEWHERE from West Side Story and I LOVE PARIS from Can-Can and makes them her own.


Following on are five tracks from her album ‘Soul’, recorded in late 1965 and early 1966, which featured that much covered 1955 hit UNCHAINED MELODY, the Burt Bacharach penned plea for peace, WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE and her single LOVE BUG, which was penned by R&B vocalist Don Covay, who at the time was writing hits for soul star Aretha Franklin.


On the first track of CD2, we jump forward to 1993 for Duke Ellington’s PRELUDE TO A KISS, extracted from her first Blue Note album, We’ll Be Together Again. A further four tracks from this album follow, and introduce us to some outstanding numbers, including Stephen Sondheim’s OLD FRIEND, Billy Strayhorn’s YOU’RE THE ONE and I’VE GOT TO HAVE YOU, a 1972 country hit for Sammi Smith, which was written by Kris Kristofferson.


Moving on, the next five tracks are taken from the album An Evening With Lena Horne, this Grammy winner being recorded when she was 77. Released in 1995, it featured a backing from Count Basie’s Orchestra on COME RUNNIN’, DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME and the swinging THE LADY IS A TRAMP. A small group of her regular musicians support Lena on I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING and a song that will bring a lump to anyone’s throat, the Frankie Laine composed WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN. In 1998 came ‘Being Myself’ and on it Lena revisits her Cotton Club days with a song from 1934, AS LONG AS I LIVE. She also offers the wonderful AUTUMN IN NEW YORK and equally noteworthy HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON? This top notch set of Lena Horne classics closes with three tracks from the 1999 recorded album ‘Seasons Of My Life’, which was finally released in 2006, and what better way to end an album called the Best of Lena Horne than with a reprise of the song with which she will be indelibly linked: STORMY WEATHER.


Ossie Dales (In Tune) with Dave McAleer (Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums)



THE BEST OF LENA HORNE

(The United Artists & Blue Note Recordings)


397 3882

0946 3 97388 2 3


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



 

 

 

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