RIP Lena Horne

The great singer, talented actress, and crucial civil-rights pioneer, Lena Horne, has passed on age 92. The Guardian has a very good obituary which summarizes her life and work.

Ms. Horne’s involvement in the movies was limited by racism — even the movies she appeared in tended to feature her in short musical segments that could be easily edited out for play in the South. Still, she made enough of an impression in two major all-African-American MGM musicals from 1943, “Stormy Weather” and Vincente Minelli’s debut, the musical religious fantasy, “Cabin in the Sky“,” that my favorite uncle always remarked that it was the first time he’d seen an alluring black woman on the screen. If it impacted my very not-black uncle that way, I probably can’t begin to imagine how it must have felt for countless African-American men and women.

Below, Horne shows she’s a natural on-screen with a humorous duet with an unlikely partner from “Cabin in the Sky” — easily my favorite scene from the movie. As the old joke goes, musically speaking it’s a case of “The Agony and the Ecstasy.”

That’s Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, best known as Jack Benny’s greatest comic foil, providing a huge musical contrast while being tempted to the ways of Satan above.

Below, we have Ms. Horne singing the song which became her signature number, and my father’s favorite all-time recording, I believe — from the 1943 movie of the same name and her only lead role until 1969, “Stormy Weather.”

David Hudson of the Auteurs has accumulated the reaction and notes on her passing. From it, I want to particularly recommend Sheila O’Malley’s remembrance. It includes a clip of Ms. Horne taking a lead in a “Sesame Street” duet of “Being Green” with Kermit the Frog that I found incredibly moving. If you consider what the song is really about, I don’t think it’s a mystery why I was so moved.

  

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