The Essential Lena Horne
Frank Rich in his 1981 review of the one-woman show, Lena Horne: A Lady and Her Music, captured the artist’s appeal in three phrases: “the clipped diction, the naughty grins, the finger-snapping sassiness.” Horne, Rich said, was not presenting herself so much as a survivor – “a favorite device of older stars who come back to Broadway” – but as an artist who, even at sixty-three, was still growing.
The Essential Lena Horne spans thirty years of the artist’s career, from her first recordings in 1941 where her character was already so much in evidence, to the great live recordings of the 1950s and 1960s in New York and Las Vegas that find the singer in full bloom.
The song most identified with Horne is “Stormy Weather,” composed in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. She recorded it for RCA in 1941, and the song became the title track for the first film in which she had a starring role in 1943. “Stormy Weather” was so deeply associated with Horne that in her 1981 Broadway show, she performed it twice in what Frank Rich called “an honest-to-God coup de théâtre.” The 1957 version recorded at New York’s Webster Hall with Lennie Hayton and His Orchestra is considered by many to be her definitive recording of the song.
Though often identified as an actress, and frequently cited as one of the first black stars to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, Lena Horne made just eight films and appeared in only five shows on Broadway. Her skills as a performer – nurtured early on by longtime Duke Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn – were honed over the years before her nightclub audiences around the world.
Two such performances are featured extensively in this collection: Horne’s February 1957 appearance at the Waldorf Astoria in New York with Nat Brandwynne’s Orchestra, and a 1960 Las Vegas performance with Anthony Morelli and His Sands Hotel Orchestra. The medleys of tunes by Cole Porter, Jule Styne, and Duke Ellington highlight the multiple facets of Horne’s delivery.
Lena Horne’s sole appearance in a Broadway musical came in 1957, when she starred in Jamaica by Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Writing in the New York Times, critic Brooks Atkinson made special note of Horne’s four songs in the show. “[These] are songs that know they have been sung by the time Miss Horne gets through with them.”
When she turned eighty, Lena Horne nicely summed up the complexities of her life and career: “My identity is 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.” Lena Horne’s career, her life, was simply to be Lena Horne.
– Jackson Braider, 2010
Lena Horne, vocals
Lou Bring (Disc 1, Tracks 1, 4, 7), Marty Gold (Disc 2, Tracks 5, 8), Lennie Hayton (Disc 1, Tracks 15, 18–20; Disc 2, Tracks 2, 14, 19), Horace Henderson (Disc 1, Tracks 3, 6), Michel Legrand (Disc 2, Track 18), Marty Paich (Disc 1, Track 17; Disc 2, Tracks 12, 15), conductors
Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra (Disc 1, Track 2)
Nat Brandwynne’s Orchestra (Disc 1, Tracks 19, 20)
Lennie Hayton and His Orchestra (Disc 1, Tracks 8, 10–14, 16; Disc 2, Tracks 1, 7, 11)
Neil Hefti, His Orchestra and Chorus (Disc 2, Tracks 6, 13)
Phil Moore Four (Disc 1, Track 5)
Anthony Morelli and His Sands Hotel Orchestra (Disc 2, Tracks 9, 16)
Billy Strayhorn, piano (Disc 1, Track 9)
George Duvivier, bass (Disc 1, Track 9)
Jimmy Crawford, drums (Disc 1, Track 9)