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Lena Horne - by Dan Morgenstern
An unprecedented number of obituaries and appreciations of Lena Horne, following her death at 92 on May 9, streamed over the internet and can now be found at IJS. From all over the United States but also from Canada and Great Britain, they celebrate the life and career of this extraordinary singer, actress and activist who was the first African American performer to be signed to a Hollywood contract not as someone to portray menials, but as a glamorous presence in her own right. Initially, she was only featured in musical numbers, but in two widely distributed all-black feature films, "Stormy Weather" and "Cabin in the Sky," she demonstrated her acting skills. Prior to that, she had established herself as a jazz singer, recording with the bands of Noble Sissle, Charlie Barnet and Artie Shaw, and under her own name. It is primarily in this role, which eventually became the dominant one in her career (her outspoken views on racism and friendship with, among others, Paul Robeson, got her in trouble during the McCarthy era) that her legacy is represented in our archives.
IJS holds no less than 219 LPs, CDs and 45s featuring Ms Horne, as well as many 78s, including her debut recordings with Noble Sissle (Sidney Bechet was in the band). Her clipping files are substantial, dating back to 1941, and there are unpublished recordings from our Benny Carter collection, from their collaboration on "Stormy Weather" (which was Carter's first film assignment; he is not seen on screen, but is very visible backing Horne in a terrific rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose" from the technicolor musical "Thousands Cheer"). Thus she is mentioned in Morroe and Ed Berger's definitive "Benny Carter: A Life in American Music," the first publication in our monograph series "Studies In Jazz" (with a much enlarged second edition), and also in Ed's "Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvivier." The great bassist often worked with Horne and was one of her favorite musicians. Horne's two autobiographies are here, as well as James Gavin's much-praised "Stormy Weather," a biography published in 2009.
On a personal note, I cherish an encounter that I had with Lena Horne in 1981. This took place when, as a trustee of the Recording Academy, I was happily assigned to present her with the Grammy she had earned for her one-woman hit Broadway show "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music." She declined having the presentation made on stage, so we met backstage at the Nederlander Theater during intermission. A press photographer was on hand, and so was good friend Quincy Jones (who memorably composed "For Lena and Lennie" for Count Basie's band in 1958; Lennie Hayton was Lena's second husband, a noted arranger and producer, and on whose label, Qwest, the winning album was issued). Everyone was in a happy mood. Presenters were required to recite a formal statement, and as I began my spiel, the beautiful and charming recipient started to giggle and within seconds, all three of us were laughing, almost to the point of tears. I'll never forget those brief but wonderful moments with this great lady.
--Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute Of Jazz Studies