Here’s a song — and a performance — that’ll haunt you for a while on this rainy Monday. The beautiful Lena Horne, who died this weekend in New York at the age of 92, sang “Stormy Weather” in the 1943 movie musical of the same name. Born in Brooklyn in 1917, she began her career dancing at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem and made her way to Hollywood in the early 1940s. Screen opportunities for black actress/singers were rare, and Horne was repeatedly put into movie musicals to sing a single number — one that could be easily edited from the film when it was released in the South. She nonetheless made her mark, particularly in this film and as a sparkling temptress in Vincente Minnelli’s “Cabin in the Sky.” I watched the latter at the Port Townsend Film Festival last full, with a post-screening discussion led by Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osborne and Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley (a writer who looks uncannily like her mother). Here’s what I wrote then:
Buckley, interviewed by Osborne onstage after the “Cabin in the Sky” screening, told the audience that her mother loved making that film with Vincente Minnelli — it was the only film in her Hollywood career of which she was fond. “She felt her film career didn’t exist,” Buckley said. She spoke briefly of the discrimination experienced by Horne as a pioneering black actress in Hollywood: Some hair and makeup people refused to work with her, and her scenes were routinely cut out of films for their release in Southern states. Buckley, who lives near Horne in New York, said that her mother is now 92 and unable to travel, but still enjoys watching Turner Classic Movies. “Please tell her we love her,” said Osborne, to loud applause.
Though frustrated and mistreated by Hollywood, Horne went on to have a long career as a recording artist, and some of us have fond youthful memories of one of her rare late screen performances: Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz.” Here she is, with “Stormy Weather” — simply unforgettable.