Sometimes, randomly I’ll wonder what she’s up to. Is she in good health? Is she still lucid? Is she surrounded by people who love her and care for her? I hope and pray she is.
Lena Horne is a living legend who has retreated completely from the spotlight. She turned 92 on June 30, and her last public appearance was in 1999 at an event in her honor in New York. Her final televised singing appearance was in 1998 on the Rosie O’Donnell show.
I wasn’t of the Stormy Weather generation of Lena Horne fans, not old enough to remember her appearances on The Judy Garland Show, or her TV specials. My connection to Lena is directly connected to my childhood.
Her appearances on Sesame Street and the Muppet Show made a huge impact on me at a tender age, when Trinidad and Tobago Television showed endless repeats of Seventies and early Eighties era episodes. Even then, there was something about Lena that just struck a chord with me. Her gentle spirit. The way she carried herself. Her classy demeanor. She reminded me of the women in my family, who held themselves with a certain elegance and dignity even when in less than dignified company.
Lena didn’t teach me the alphabet (I’m pretty sure my mother, my aunty Opal, and my sister Petal were directly responsible for that), but Lena’s funky version sure helped to reinforce the lesson.
This song used to make me sad when I was a wee one.
There’s something very tender about it. Add that to the fact that Grover has always been my favorite muppet. He’s just so fuzzy and blue!
It’s Not Easy Being Green is one of the best Muppet songs point blank, and Lena’s duet with Kermit is touching and magical to me, even to this day.
Of course, many prefer Ray Charles’ version. Which is also magnificent).
I guess I’m something of a Muppet freak. And even at my age, I’m not ashamed. One of the many things I look forward to, when I have children of my own, is sharing these childhood memories with them. I can’t wait to sit with my own little boy or girl, and watch Lena’s episode of the Muppet Show. I’d embed it if I could, but of course YouTube’s got it on lockdown. It’s worth watching, just to hear Lena perform Sing A Song with Kermit, Fozzie, Rowlf et al. Here’s part one, part two, and part three.
It’s amazing what the mind retains. Watching that now, I can recall almost every punchline of every joke, every line of the song. I remember how much I loved her denim jacket in that first song, “I’ve Got a Name.” (It’s like a denim kung fu jacket with fabulous big sleeves and cool fasteners on the front. If I could find such a jacket today, I’d be a happy, happy gal). But if you ask me what I did on Tuesday afternoon for example, I’d be at a complete loss.
Lena Horne showed enough of her personality on those children’s television shows to make me love her for life. From what I’ve read, she now lives a very quiet and private life on the Upper East Side in New York. And as I mentioned, every so often I just wonder – how’s Auntie Lena doing? Even though we’re totally unrelated and if I ever had the opportunity to meet her, I’d be completely star struck and speechless.
I hope she’s living out her days in comfort and surrounded by love. And I can’t lie, a small part of me hopes she finds out that this homage is on the internet somehow. She’s part of a generation that is slipping away so fast, we hardly get a chance to say goodbye. I just hope she knows while she’s still around, that she made an impact on people’s lives in ways maybe she never thought about.
Thank you, Lena.
USA Today reports that James Gavin has written a new biography titled Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, that “offers a fascinating study of a complicated woman and the complicated times that shaped her.” Gavin only interviewed Lena herself once in 1994, but pulls together his depiction based on research and conversations with key figures in her life. I plan to give it a read. But honestly, I really should read The Hornes: An American Family, which is written by Lena’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley, first.
Are you a Lena Horne fan? A Muppet fan? Share your fondest Lena memories with me.