Sunday, May 09, 2010

Farewell to Lena Horne -- Proud Black Woman & Singer

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/05/10/us/AP-US-Obit-Horne.html

''I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become,'' Horne once said. ''I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.''

Horne was only 2 when her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP. But she avoided activism until 1945 when she was entertaining at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting up front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.

That pivotal moment channeled her anger into something useful.

She got involved in various social and political organizations and -- along with her friendship with Paul Robeson -- got her name onto blacklists during the red-hunting McCarthy era.

By the 1960s, Horne was one of the most visible celebrities in the civil rights movement, once throwing a lamp at a customer who made a racial slur in a Beverly Hills restaurant and in 1963 joining 250,000 others in the March on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ''I Have a Dream'' speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that same year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination.

It was also in the mid-'60s that she put out an autobiography, ''Lena,'' with author Richard Schickel.

The next decade brought her first to a low point, then to a fresh burst of artistry.

She had married MGM music director Lennie Hayton, a white man, in Paris in 1947 after her first overseas engagements in France and England. An earlier marriage to Louis J. Jones had ended in divorce in 1944 after producing daughter Gail and a son, Teddy.

In the 2009 biography ''Stormy Weather,'' author James Gavin recounts that when Horne was asked by a lover why she'd married a white man, she replied: ''To get even with him.''

Her father, her son and her husband, Hayton, all died in 1970-71, and the grief-stricken singer secluded herself, refusing to perform or even see anyone but her closest friends. One of them, comedian Alan King, took months persuading her to return to the stage, with results that surprised her.

''I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters,'' she said. ''It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live.''

And she discovered that time had mellowed her bitterness.

''I wouldn't trade my life for anything,'' she said, ''because being black made me understand.''

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