Monday, May 10, 2010

RIP Lena Horne

Some time ago I stopped memorializing artists with whom I had no "personal" connection. Horne is something of an exception to this rule, in that I only recently became acquainted with her work. Growing up she only appeared in one film that I saw (on cable), 1978's The Wiz, where she gives an earnest, gauzy performance as Glinda (it would be her last screen role), appeared on TV, and had a Broadway hit that was before my time as a theatergoer. Not much to go on. Now I realize what a hard climb it was for her, and I can fathom why aspects of her multifaceted career seem unrealized as she went from striver to living legend without sinking in as deeply as other performers. I'm better acquainted with her music, I appreciated her steadying personality in an uneven but interesting Richard Widmark Western, Death of a Gunfighter (1969), and I've seen her two best films, from 1943, Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky. She's incredibly sexy and delightful in each, a major presence...and such was America in the pre-civil rights era that her gifts could not easily be capitalized on. She opened doors that let others through, a huge accomplishment not easily achieved. But I'm not sure we got to know her as well as we might have.

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