Monday, May 10, 2010

Singerobit: Lena Horne

"The black singer Lena Horne has died", announced Radio 4, mentioning how she fought to overcome racial prejudice. Not so successfully, it turned out, that she wouldn't be described as a "black singer" upon her death.

Horne's background was different to that of many of her generation of artists - she was from a very well-to-do family, with an uncle who was an advisor to FDR, and a grandfather, Samuel R. Scottron, who made a fortune from inventing better curtain rods and was a senior figure in the Republican Party.

Lena herself, though, started to head in a different direction - dropping out of High School without a diploma and joining a chorus line at The Cotton Club. She developed a movie career alongside a musical one, working with MGM in roles which could be cut from the Southern releases of movies.

It was a 20th Century Fox movie which would create the iconic Horne moment - singing the theme to 1943's Stormy Weather, while on loan from MGM.

The difficulty of getting good roles led Horne to be increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood - losing the lead in Show Boat to placate rules on interracial relationships was a major blow - and by the 1950s she was concentrating on music. She recorded for RCA-Victor, got "nightclub" residencies of a Waldrof-Astoria sort, and became a staple for high-end TV variety shows. She even got the ultimate accolade: a guest slot with The Muppets.

She retired from live performing in the 1980s, but still released the odd studio collection - her last appearance being on 2000's Classic Ellington album.

Lena Horne died Sunday night; she was 92.