Between her appearances on Sesame Street and her starring role as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz, I thought Lena Horne was the prettiest, the kindest, loveliest woman in the world. Her demeanor was positively exuberant when she sang and in silence, she was dignified and divine. I swear, when I was little, I really thought she was this goddess of sorts. When I prayed to Jesus at night, I always envisioned Ms. Lena in her glittery silver dress in that starry night of Black babies floating somewhere nearby. She was not only heavenly, for me, she was Heaven.
She was also family. I learned my ABC’s and how to be more outgoing with my young self while watching Lena Horne on Sesame Street. Sometimes as a child when I was angry at my mom for not giving me money to buy soft serve ice cream or something else equally devastating to my 6-year old mind, I would imagine life as the daughter of Lena Horne. She would buy me all the ice cream I could eat and spray Reddi-Whip all over the top letting me put the cherry on top. Aunt Lena never said no. She always had a hug and a huge grin for the children and muppets on TV, so I knew she loved me too.
And as far as my dad was concerned there was no woman finer than Lena Horne. No woman. Now that I read Lena Horne’s obit I see she was one of the most popular pin-ups for Black and White servicemen in World War II. My dad was in the Airforce in WWII and I bet he had a photo of The Stormy Weather chanteuse in his footlocker. I am in awe of her accomplishments—first Black woman to get a contract from a major Hollywood studio, her friendships–Paul Robeson, WEB DuBois, and her radical poise with regard to Civil Rights but really I have always loved her for being so regal yet so down home. Black magic.
About her fans and preserving her privacy, the Brooklyn native said, “They get the singer Lena Horne but they’re not going to get the woman.”
And about that woman, at 64 she said to 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley: “I’m a rich, juicy, ripe plum again. If a lady treats other people as she’d like to be treated, then she’s allowed to go and roll in the grass if she wants to.”
At 80, Ms. Horne stated: “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”