In a cultural moment when the beauty and value of black women and their bodies is so much still up for discussion, the loss of the lovely Lena Horne is poignant.
She was rare for a number of reasons:
- She had a career in which she remained in and out of the public eye for decades, never disappearing or becoming irrelevant. She was recognizable and beloved by generations. Grandmothers who sang "Stormy Weather" every time they saw Horne on TV had grandsons who tilted their heads in mannish admiration of her enduring beauty. Her episode of "A Different World" in the 90s is remembered fondly by most of my peers.
- She spoke her mind. As an actress, a woman, and a black woman, telling folks where to get off was not supposed to be in the cards. Yet, there are many stories about her outspoken opinions about race in Hollywood.
- She didn't run from being black, even though she could have. She probably could have "passed" (maybe?) but was very clear about the way she identified herself. She didn't need to come up with contrived categories or separate herself from other actresses who were also confronting the difficulties of discrimination and inequity.
- She was a sassy singer and a wonderful actress. Many of those today who try to do both clearly need to stick to only one genre. Halle Berry was right to include Horne in her Academy Award acknowledgements.
- She was the good witch in "The Wiz." That performance is mesmerizing every time I see it. I remember seeing it as a little girl and thinking that she looked like an angel, too beautiful to be real. When she sang, "Believe in yourself as I believe in you!" I cried.
- She was sexy. The road to recognition for black women has been filled with pressures from within and without that often forced them to strip themselves of sexuality altogether; or they were relegated to a simplistic portrait of hypersexuality that was one dimensional and dangerous. (This happened in literature as well, hence the need to prove black respectability.) Horne, with her impossibly small waist and sultry smirk, dared to present herself as a woman who was desirable. And she knew it!
- Dang it--she looked fabulous at 92!
Thank you, Lena Horne!