Appreciation: The Ferociousness of Lena Horne
By Amy Alexander
Published: May 11, 2010
Gene Seymour, former film critic at Newsday and an expert on jazz, also found Horne to be few clicks more complex than most of her press clippings -- 70 years’ worth -- indicated. I remembered reading something he’d written about one of Horne’s last public performances, in the early 1990s.
So yesterday, I hit Seymour up on Facebook. He wrote back right away, saying he’d first met with Lena Horne in ‘94, at a restaurant in New York. They sat for 90 minutes and had a wide-ranging conversation-slash-interview. I never met Lena Horne, but Gene Seymour did. I trust his eyes, ears, heart, and his journalism. He will have the last word in this space on Lena Horne, a great performer:
Sitting elbow-to-elbow with a 20th-century myth is intimidating enough to keep you incoherent for weeks afterwards. But five, 10 (at most) minutes into the conversation, she had so completely put me at ease that I felt I was talking not with someone who fueled the steamiest fantasies of several generation of African-American males (including mine), but with one of my brighter, sassier great-aunts.
Today's New York Times obit was about as comprehensive & as unsparing against the people high & low who done her wrong, while remaining attentive to the glories of her youth and to her principled political stances. And yet ... and yet ... there was something missing from the piece, which managed to barely evoke the magic her image could evoke; the terror & wonder of her breakthrough appearance in "Cabin in the Sky," where she & Miss Ethel Waters fought to a fare-thee-well on and off-screen; how she was able, even through the worse times, to cultivate her innate talent for dramatic presentation and siphon a galvanizing array of emotions through her singing; most especially, her brittle, yet playful wit, which I always believed was the most undervalued weapon in her musical quiver.
Overall this masterly juggling of passion & intelligence made her one-woman Broadway shows so theatrically effective and biographically illuminating.