Lena Horne Turns 90
Lena Horne Turns 90
Songstress Lena Horne is preparing to celebrate her 90th birthday. Author Donald Bogle talks about Horne's legendary career as a singer and an actress as chronicled in his book "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood."
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Lena Horne turns 90 this weekend. The singer and star is a pioneer who blazed a trail in Hollywood for black entertainers with such films as "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather." Both movies showcased all-star casts of African-American actors.
To help us celebrate, we spoke with film historian Donald Bogle about Lena Horne's career and her mark on popular culture.
Mr. DONALD BOGLE (Film Historian; Author, "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood"): I think that we should celebrate Lena Horne's 90th birthday by really understanding the way that she opened the doors for so many other people to follow, by understanding the tensions and the conflicts that she had to endure in order to be on screen, and to understand that we can still enjoy her music and that we can still be affected by the songs that she sang and the style in which she did sing them.
(Soundbite of song, "Stormy Weather")
Ms. LENA HORNE (Singer): (Singing) Can't go on, all I have in life is gone. Stormy weather since my man and I ain't together. Keeps rainin' all the time.
Mr. BOGLE: Her Hollywood career didn't work out the way that she wanted it to. But nonetheless, she broke down a significant barrier in the early 1940s. Lena Horne had been a singer, and she came - she was a East Coast singer, and she came to the West Coast in the early '40s, was spotted by talent scouts from MGM studios - then most powerful of the Hollywood studios - and she was signed to this big contract.
But black women before Lena Horne in the movies usually played these giggling maids. You might see a Hattie McDaniel in "Gone with the Wind" or a Louise Beavers. And these were women who were nanny types and they were nurturing and very much defects to deglamorize. And so Lena Horne did usher in this new image.
Lena Horne was the first African-American woman in Hollywood to be fully glamorized, fully publicized by her studio. And Lena Horne was able to hold onto her poise and her dignity. Some people don't see much value in glamour or sex appeal or whatever, but those things are important in many ways, and Lena Horne was able to give us that.
And we can see links between Lena Horne through Dorothy Dandridge to Diana Ross to Whitney Houston, right up to Beyonce today. And quite frankly, in that evolutionary chain of links, there really couldn't be a Beyonce without a Lena Horne.
(Soundbite of song, "Believe in Yourself")
Ms. HORNE: (Singing) You got to believe, believe in the magic right there in your heart. Go ahead believe all these things, not because I told you to, yeah. Go ahead believe in yourself. Believe in yourself. Believe in yourself, as I believe in you.
Mr. BOGLE: I would like to - I wish I could sing it to you, Lena - but I'd like to say Happy Birthday, Lena Horne, and 90 more to come.
MARTIN: We do, too. That was Donald Bogle, author of "Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood." Lena Horne celebrates her 90th birthday this Saturday, June 30th. Happy Birthday, Lena.
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