R.I.P. Lena Horne


American legend Lena Horne has passed away at the age of 92. Big generous awesome NY Times obituary here.

The Siren remembers Lena Horne here.

Jackie has a very nice post with a good overview of Horne’s career.

Nathaniel R. at Film Experience has a beautiful tribute up.

A comprehensive compilation of tribute links and obituaries at The Auteurs.

A strange thing: Last night, before going to bed, Mitchell and I found ourselves talking about Lena Horne. We had been watching a show about the “freedom songs” of the Civil Rights movement, and somehow we started talking about Lena Horne. Mitchell read the biography of Horne last year, Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, which he loved, and we both love her, so there was a lot to discuss. It was one of those impromptu appreciative conversations that he and I love to have.

As with so many of the coolest performers of the 20th century, my first encounter with Lena Horne was when I was a child, watching Sesame Street, and she did duets with the Muppets, and she had a big Afro, and reminded me a little bit of my mother (not that my mother had an Afro, but there was something Mum-like about Horne’s classiness and style). I also remember watching Sesame Street, and Lena Horne was singing, and I had to have been about 6 or 7 years old, and I remember my mother watching it with me, and she said, when Lena appeared, “I love her.” It made an impression on me. I had no idea who Lena Horne was, but my mother loved her, so, the way children often make associations, that might be also why I associated her with my mother for so long. Of course, as an adult, I encountered Lena Horne through her films and recordings.

Last night, Mitchell and I lay in bed, talking about her, and her struggles and difficulties, her groundbreaking contract with MGM, her gigs playing at nightclubs where she wouldn’t be allowed to attend as an audience member, being black, how Bogart stood up for her when she moved to his neighborhood, her whole long interesting career: the social/cultural/political upheaval of the century writ large in her career and life.

A tough cookie.

Mitchell and I fell asleep after our long conversation about Lena Horne, and then woke up this morning to the news that she had passed away. We sat in silence, thinking about her, and thinking about our long conversation only a few hours before.

“Mitchell,” I said, “It feels like we gave her a sendoff last night.”

And that’s how I like to think about it. She passed on AS we were passionately talking about her. Her audience remained loyal, with her to the end.

Rest in peace, Ms. Horne.

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5 Responses to R.I.P. Lena Horne

  1. Wutzizname says:

    My introduction to Lena Horne was from watching Sesame Street, too. My mom and Grandmother insisted I learn more about her, and always called me to the TV when she came on television, even for a moment. It’s a shame that she’s no longer with us, but I feel that she lived a very fulfilling life. Thanks for the posting, sheila. I’m glad the news was broken to me this way. /hugz

  2. red says:

    Hey, Wutz – in retrospect it is really is incredible the ICONS that were introduced to me as a child through Sesame Street. They got the coolest people!

    I’ve been playing Lena songs all morning.

    Kudos to your mom and grandmother for pointing Lena out to you so specifically.

    Rest in peace.

  3. JessicaR says:

    My friend and I watched The Muppet Show she hosted last night in tribute. She was the performer we need more of, she didn’t just sing but created a whole experience with her voice.

  4. Shel says:

    This is my first visit to your lovely site, and your post about Ms. Horne gave me chills- I love when the universe sends us things like that. There is an entire generation who owes much to Sesame Street exposure. :)

    And then I was reading your “About Me” section and got another little shiver from your story about William Hurt (whom I haven’t had the privilege of meeting), because the man got married in my yard.

    Tiny, fun coincidence. Looking forward to reading more here. Thanks!

  5. Mary Hess says:

    Thank you — and thanks to the Siren for the link. I remember Halle Berry’s Oscar acceptance speech when she evoked the memory of Dorothy Dandridge and thanked Lena. She was right to do so. I had tears running down my face thinking of Dandridge’s sad autobiography, of Nina Mae McKinney (called “the Black Garbo”), and of Lena, missing the role of her life — Julie in SHOW BOAT. Helen Morgan was right for the first film, but what an injustice! “Light Egyptian.” Adding insult to injury.

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