Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne: The Passing of a Legend

There aren't too many entertainers that manage to have a 60 year career that is marked by consistent excellence. Lena Horne not only sang with the same force in her later years as she did when she started out at 16, but through all those years, her statuesque beauty never faded.

I never had the fortune to see Lena perform live on stage, but she was a frequent guest on TV talk shows and variety shows during the 60's and 70's when I was growing up. Each time I saw her, she looked exactly the same and her voice was just as powerful.

In the summer of 1981 I went to New York with my best friend Charles for a weekend of Broadway shows and night clubbing. We stayed with a friend of his in Queens and went into Manhattan first thing Saturday morning to get the cheapest matinee tickets we could get at the TKTS booth in Times Square. We couldn't get tickets for Lena's one-woman show, "Lena Horne, The Lady and Her Music". They just weren't available.

We saw two other shows, the Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Sophisticated Ladies", the Duke Ellington Musical starring the late Gregory Hines, Judith Jamison, Hinton Battle and the late, great Phyllis Hyman. Two of the best productions ever. This was back in the days before Disney owned most of the Theater District, before seeing a Broadway show was reduced to nothing more than a trip to a theme park.

We saw the matinee shows not just because they were cheaper, but because it would leave the nights free for partying. On Saturday night we headed out to The Saint, one of the last big gay clubs in the last days of disco. We made our way down 41st St. and as we passed the Nederlander Theatre, I looked over to see a big black limousine by the curb. The tinted window in the back seat went down to reveal the brightest smile I had ever seen in my 21 years (or since). Charles was a few paces ahead of me. I wanted to play it cool, but I had to let him know. I sort of half-yelled, in my best stage whisper, "It's Lena!" As he turned, the limo pulled away and sped off into the night. He had totally missed her, but the memory of that dazzling smile and that classically beautiful and timeless face is forever burned into my memory.

Rest in peace Miss Horne.
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