My Old Kentucky Homesite

In Memoriam: Lena Horne

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 05/11/2010

I’m not a big fan of memorial posts because, obviously, a corpse doesn’t care whether it’s remembered or not.

But Lena Horne, who died on Sunday night, was one of my favorite singers. Back in the mid-50s, she was also one of my first crushes — before my mother explained to me that nice Jewish boys “can’t” marry shvartzers. What Mom should have told me was that I couldn’t marry Lena Horne because another nice Jewish boy, named Lennie Hayton, had already done so. Apparently, I had the right first initial, but that goddamned “W” cost me my shot.

I doubt whether my mother was a fan of Lenny Bruce, another nice Jewish boy. In one of his most famous standup routines, he said:

You are a white. The Imperial Wizard. Now, if you don’t think this is logic you can burn me on the fiery cross. This is the logic: You have the choice of spending fifteen years married to a woman, a black woman or a white woman. Fifteen years kissing and hugging and sleeping real close on hot nights. With a black, black woman or a white, white woman. The white woman is Kate Smith. And the black woman is Lena Horne. So you’re not concerned with black or white anymore, are you? You are concerned with how cute or how pretty. Then let’s really get basic and persecute ugly people!

Anyway, even though I dug having the opportunity to show Lena and quote Lenny, I still might not have posted my little tribute had there not been … godless drumroll … an atheist connection.

“Yip” Harburg, the lyricist of the song you’ll hear in the video embedded below, was a fellow heathen. In addition to writing the words to dozens of standards including “April in Paris,” “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,” and all the tunes in The Wizard of Oz, he also wrote the following little rhyme:

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;
And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.
But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.

So this is Lena singing “Ain’t It the Truth”:

Here’s Lena in 1943, singing her signature tune, Stormy Weather.

Nearly 40 years later, she sang another version. Stick around for the second song, too, despite its name. You might be pleasantly surprised; it turns out to be … another godless drumroll … a subtle “screw-you” to the sanctimonious.

Lena Horne in fine voice and a middle finger flipped at the Fundies! Say what you will about astrology, but that’s what I’d call a harmonic convergence.


13 Responses to “In Memoriam: Lena Horne”

  1. Nice. People used to tell my mother that she looked like like Lena Horne (and she did) which she took as a real fine compliment. Now I know why.

  2. SI:
    Well, I’ve met you, and you don’t look anything like Lena Horne. Kate Smith, maybe.

  3. Well of course those “real” Americans aren’t going to persecute ugly people, I mean, look at them.

  4. Philly:
    How did you get a photo of my neighbors?

  5. the chaplain said

    She was an amazing singer. I loved the second version of Stormy Weather. With regard to your neighbors, Philly took their picture when they came to your place for the annual Derby Day BBQ last week.

  6. Chappy:
    Philly took their picture when they came to your place for the annual Derby Day BBQ last week.

    Yep, we wuz blastin’ some kickass country on are boombox an’ we wuz all chuggin’ lite beer an’ eatin’ on beef jerky. So I might coulda been too ass-cited to notice no seven-foot-tall guy in wunna em headdress thangs takin’ pitchers.

  7. Ha!

  8. Paul:
    Thanks for your insight.
    FYI: Normally, I delete all self-promoting spam. But your photo is so hilarious, that I thought my readers might enjoy seeing it.

  9. the chaplain said

    Give Paul some credit for being concise in his self-promotion. Have you ordered his book yet?

  10. I can’t see either my photo or where I’m self promoting.

    I like the rhyme and it makes its point well.

  11. Paul:
    Well, I’m sorry if I misconstrued your comment. I should have realized, from “Ha,” that you were laughing specifically at the little verse I quoted in the middle of the post.

    I can’t understand how I could have missed that.

  12. Interrobang said

    I only found out Lena Horne was “black” after she died; she didn’t have typical African-American facial features, and her skin tone looks exactly the same as a “white” 1950s female recording artist’s when photographed in black and white…

    Then again, I was born after this stuff stopped mattering so darn much, and as far as I’m concerned, people like Walter Francis White, uh, were.

    For what it’s worth, Kate Smith isn’t ugly, she’s just heavy, and I sorta worry about anybody who thinks that “fat” automatically equals “ugly.” She’s got a nice heart-shaped face and good cheekbones, which is more than a lot of people can say. Some guys like heavy women, thank goodness, or I’d never get laid, ’cause I sure look a heck of a lot more like Kate Smith than I do like Lena Horne, at least from the neck down…

  13. Interrobang:
    Well, that picture of Kate Smith is unusually flattering. But even if she were ordinarily pretty, I think it’s fairly evident that Lena Horne was stunningly beautiful.

    I think Lenny Bruce’s comment was made not only because Smith was … ummmmm … Rubenesque, but because by the 50s, she had come to stand for a kind of knee-jerk right-wing American religio-patriotism that his hip audience would have found offensive.

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