It's been a couple of days now since hearing about the passing of legendary singer Lena Horne. Not much in the news... her career spanned several decades and resulted in landmark achievements for African American women "song stylists" as I like to call those gifted vocalist-whether pop or classical-whose phrasing and emotional commitment to the totality of their songs transcends time.
Her life was not without controversy. She did not tolerate bigotry. She barely tolerated being relegated to "the colored girl with the voice" specialty film cameos. Lena also paid a steep price for loyalty to friends.
Thinking back awhile, whenever Lena appeared on TV in the sixties, her performances became sophisticated celebrations of coded resistance, resilience blended with grace and poise. I would sit close to the television, dreaming, hoping that someday I would be like her on stage.
She toured in a small show during the eighties. San Diego was on the itinerary. Lena Horne, on stage here, in San Diego. During the performance we cheered, clapped, cried. My friends kept asking,"How old did you say she is?" Every time I repeated her age, they'd say, "NOooooo. Really? NOOooooo." We talked about that evening for weeks. . .
Now, whether presenting, hosting, or performing at jazz jams, poetry readings, film screenings, street fairs, gospel fests, or panel discussions... I aspire to shine a slight shimmer of her brilliance and love of the arts from me to the audience. Her soul did flame in the midst of darkness to blaze against the cultural night surrounding her and others whose artistry built the bridge on which so many of us now "dance."
Lena, your life-courage continues to inspire creative hearts to dare think of humanity's agape potential.