06 February 2012

Black History Sound Bites: Nibble 6

Lena Horne
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 1917 - May 2010)
Lena Horne made her film debut in a 1938 film titled The Duke Is Tops. In the film, Horne sings many songs that seem to foreshadow the greatness of her career, including lines like "You and I have made a small beginning"--which reflects her rise from a housewife with an occasional film role to one of the greatest Jazz vocal legends of all time--and "True love will guide us through stormy weather" ... and it was, a national "true love" with Horne, that "guided" us from her rousing recordings of the classic "Stormy Weather" through several decades of songs that made our hearts swell, stutter, and stop.

The Duke Is Tops was one of many "race films"--that is, low-budget films produced primarily for Black audiences--produced through the 1930's, and featured a predominantly black cast. Horne was only 20 years old when the film was produced, but youth didn't make her voice any less powerful or potent. She would go on to sign a contract with MGM studio, making her the first Black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. Despite this achievement, MGM could not offer Horne leading roles due to the prejudice of the day, and many of her film roles were cut out of films when they were shown in theaters due to theater restrictions in some states prohibiting the showing of Black performers. Despite these limitations, prejudices, and set-backs, Horne went on to have a stunning career, one that took her from Hollywood Boulevard to Sesame Street, from a neighborhood in Brooklyn to A Cabin in the Sky, and beyond.


  1. I was trying to find her quote about the casting of "Showboat" -

    1. There's a quote where she said, "I had things in my life that helped me fight off the bitterness. But I didn't really enjoy my career until I was 50. I always felt like an outsider." And another where she just said, "I was like a butterfly pinned to a pillar." Are either of those the one you were talking about?


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