Wednesday, May 19, 2010

LENA HORNE does The Beatles, Elton and more

Illfolks is the "blog of less renown," focusing on the under-appreciated and unusual, so there would seem no reason to dwell on the passing of legendary Lena Horne, the Brooklyn-born singer who was given worldwide tributes throughout the past week. Except she was under-appreciated due to racism in the 40's, and denied some film roles that would've been spectacular.

Just last night, Dr. William H. Cosby Jr. appeared on Leno's show and devoted most of his couch time to talking about Lena. He played some clips of her appearance on his sitcom. But how could he articulate the pain of knowing that in her prime, in the 1940's and 1950's, when she was at the peak of her beauty, she was denied so many film opportunities? "She could've played Cleopatra…." he said. "It was just a terrible time…I don't know how you pay that back." Lena Horne lost many opportunities in those days, and we're all poorer for it. Her legacy doesn't include all that it could. Cosby succinctly ended his tribute with this carefully enunciated words: "Somebody this gorgeous, this wonderful, this talented — racism, Jay, is a waste of time."

You're invited to spend your time on the Internet checking out the various tributes and biographies for Lena Horne (June 30, 1917-May 9, 2010). Here? Just a personal note. I never spoke to Lena Horne, but I did meet her in person. She was grocery shopping in a small, very fancy upscale shop where she was no doubt comfortably assured of not being bothered. And I wasn't going to pull an "I Love Lucy" and ask her to sign a grapefruit. But I instantly recognized her and couldn't help but keep glancing now and then. She was a presence, even in her 70's.

So I wrote her a letter expressing my thoughts about her, and mentioned one of her later albums, which included "Maybe I'm Amazed." I liked the way that she, like Ella (who once put out a record covering Smokey Robinson and Randy Newman) was willing to take on new challenges and remain open to contemporary music. I also mentioned my tongue-tied glimpse of her and that I would've liked to have gotten her autograph. I was very grateful and touched by Miss Horne's response a few weeks later.

By way of tribute, and since you most probably have "Stormy Weather" and the other early classics, is a download of Lena swinging her cool and elegant way through McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," Elton's "Your Song," Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", George Harrison's "Something," and Lennon-McCartney's "In My Life." Lena Horne in your life. What a privilege.
5 From LENA HORNE Should download rapidly.

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