Lena Horne, Auntie In My Head

“Lena

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.

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Comments

  1. NaturalGloLady says:

    Thanks Afrobella for this inspiring piece. I adore Lena as well. I remember being mesmerized by her performance in “The Wiz” I sang right along with her with this song:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdwlXZ4TQ6A
    Be well and loved, Lena Horne.

  2. NaturalGloLady says:

    Sorry this not on the subject,
    but I’m excited that the musical The Wiz is coming back!!
    Watch this:

  3. Bella, we are so on the same page here. I have loved Lena Horne since I met her once as a little girl, and I too feel a special connection to her. I just purchased James Gavin’s book and plan to dive into it soon. It’s so funny to read that someone else wonders how “Auntie Lena” is from time to time! Great post!

  4. Hey Bella,

    I highly recommend reading “The Hornes: An American Family” by Gail Lumet Buckley first. Gavin’s book draws a lot from it anyway (and he says as much in the book) and it will give you much greater context into Lena Horne the person and the influences, personal and professional, in her life.

    • just want to toss it out there, in case you didn’t already know:Laurie is a tiny, but MIGHTY mama! she cnaekrd out todays track wod in less than 11 mins. and had to do it vertually solo (she had me there .. but ya ) never stopping and added a lap to the end as her cool down. way to rock the wod Laurie!

  5. One of a kind. It might just be worth the effort to try and make contact.She still has a lot of fans in Trinidad and Tobago.
    An extremely touching, yet enjoyable post

  6. Lena Horne is one of those women who always carried herself with class and grace. How could I not be a big fan.

    For me it wasn’t her appearances on Sesame Street that got me hooked. I have always been a fan of movies and even though I knew who she was it was her performance in Cabin in the Sky that grabbed me.

    I’m really looking forward to reading both books. Thanks for the post.

  7. Miss Horne has always been such an elegant lady who has often went against the grain in her own ladylike way. I read a story where Billie Holiday showed up in a club and was shunned by some of the other female artists there. Lena went out of her way to treat Billie with kindness and respect. I always think about this when I hear someone mention Lena. I’m not a fan of bio-pics, but i would love to see a very talented unknown actress play Lena.

    Thanks for the post Bella. Two of my faves in one topic, legends and fuzzy muppets-lol

  8. Lena’s disappearance from public was subtle but profound. A new biography on her just came out – its about 600+ pages. Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne (Hardcover)
    by James Gavin — the local paper gave it tepid reviews – I would LOVE someone’s opinion on it — maybe I will check it out myself – there is soooooooo much to read and so little time.
    Peace

  9. I think about her too. I love to see how Miss Lena looks now and hear her talk about her life directly. She to me is a true legend.

  10. Bella,
    I’m so happy that you wrote this piece on Lena Horne. I’ve OFTEN thought of her and my friends and I have discussed her whereabouts. I hope she’s in good health and doing well and would LOVE to see her again. I don’t want the next time we hear about her to be in death.

  11. I think that part of Lena’s appeal to many is she reminds one of a favourite family member.

    She has been such a classy and professional person that I can’t remember reading anything negative about her.

    On the topic of Muppets…love them although I was an older child when they were launched in 1969 I remember watching them because of you and our brothers. I don’t like Elmo he really irritates me *grin* but otherwise I like all of them including those in The Muppet Show series.

  12. I would love to read the biographies about her.

    Her granddaughter Jenny Lumet wrote the Oscar nominated Rachel Getting Married.

  13. I LOVE Lena Horne, The Wiz, Seseme Street and the fact that my grandpa thouhgt she was beautiful made me love her.
    Remember when she was on The Cosby show? Its a different world.
    I copied her toothpaste choice as a child because I loved her smile.
    She is still at the top of my “sorors I need to meet ” list.
    as always great post!

  14. I’ve also have been wondering about Lena Horne lately since so many of our “icons” have been dying. I recently read an article about her granddaughter lately which peeked my interest in her whereabouts. Lately we’ve been forgetting about our living legends and solely focusing on the younger celebrities, who will eventually witness the same fate.

  15. warrior11209 says:

    I have always been a fan of Lena Horne – Stormy Weather and Cabin in the sky are 2 of my favs. I wondered if she is in good health- always a classy lady.
    I have been a fan of Sesame street forever – it came out in the late 1960′s I was too old to watch on my own but since I had youger and younger brother and sister it was cool for me and my friends to watch with them and sing along and count with Cookie monster and Roosevelt Franklin. Later it was a kick to watch the newer version with my chldren – I worked for Children’s Workshop for a couple of years and got to meet a few of the actors that gave voice to the characters- and yes I did act like a 5 yr old when I met them!

  16. You said her name and I immediately think of her on the Cosby show…..I love Lena Horne too and had wondered what was happening with her. Thanks for your piece on her…even the reader comments took me down memory lane.

  17. On the bandwagon with everyone else at saying this was a great post – semi-loveletter like ;)

  18. What a simply elegant and beautiful lady who is such a trailblazer in many ways! I hope Ms. Horne is well and well-taken care of.

  19. This post just made my day! I adore all things Muppets, and seeing these clips with the marvelous Miss Horne just made me warm inside…I even teared up!

  20. flygyrl72 says:

    Gosh Bella! I hadn’t realized she’d been out of the public eye so long! I hope she’s good.

    I remember the first time I saw her, as Glenda in The Wiz, I was about 6 at the time & I thought she was one of the prettiest ladies I’d ever seen. Then, of course, like Sophia said, I loved her Cosby Show cameo, it was great.

    @nyc/caribbean ragazza – Yes! I just read in last month’s issue of Vogue that her granddaughter wrote “Rachel Getting Married”, great little film, btw. I didn’t even know that a sister had wrote that. It was a nice article. And they talk to Lena’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley,in the piece too. I had no idea she’d been married to Sidney Lumet, guess maybe that’s how Lena ended up in The Wiz, since he was her son-in-law at the time…

    Good post, Bella…

  21. Great post. I actually hadn’t realized that I haven’t seen her in so long in the public eye. I’d be interested to read the new biography or the one written by her daughter. She’s been in the biz for so long and around for so long, that you kind of take it for granted that she will always be around.

  22. The Hornes is a fascinating read. I hope you enjoy it. And I too have wondered how Lena is doing. I trust that she’s being lovingly cared for, wherever she is.

    The same thing happened to Katharine Hepburn…she withdrew from the public eye, and the next time we heard about her, it was at her death.

  23. I am a Lena Horne fan, and thank you much for the fabulous post on her. Like you, I grew up with those special Sesame Street and The Muppets (tear). I also remember her on the episode of The Cosby show that she was in where she sang and hung out with Bill and Claire.

  24. Jackie B. says:

    I read the Gavin book and it’s detailed byt not pretty. He paints Lena as the ULTIMATE DIVA and a very unhappy person off-stage. He also talks a lttle about Lena’s bisexuality…but not much. She talked about using her 2nd (white) husband to get ahead in show bus, yet Gavin covers that up…read this book with a grain of salt.

  25. I just read about her passing. She was such a woman of beauty, distinction, elegance, and radiance. She will be missed. RIP Lena!

  26. Wow! This could be one particular of the most helpful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Wonderful. I’m also an expert in this topic so I can understand your effort.

  27. You made some respectable points there. I appeared on the web for the issue and located most individuals will associate with together with your website.

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