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Music Monday on Monday: No Sun up in the Sky

I’ve seen a couple of obituaries for Lena Horne that have included this quote: I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked. That does make me feel a trifle guilty: I think Lena Horne was almost certainly the best-looking woman of the twentieth century. No, really. I am aware that I have seen only a tiny sampling (and I am certainly happy to view more nominees), but I don’t think you can have that conversation without Lena Horne figuring very prominently indeed. And that is independent of her singing, which is lovely. I celebrate her because of her beauty. And I know that’s problematic, but it’s still true that she was a stunner, peerless, beyond category.

I’m not sure, by the way, whether Ms. Horne intended with that quote to indicate that she was accepted, to the extent she was accepted, because she was a beautiful light-skinned black woman, with European features largely in line with White America ideals of beauty. I don’t know. I also don’t exactly know what she means by accepted; she was certainly prevented from becoming a star on the level with Deanna Durbin or Alice Faye, neither of whom come close to competing with her on either looks or singing. Of course, it’s possible she just wasn’t a very good film actress (I have never seen her actually playing a part, as opposed to being the singer in the picture, which (if y’all didn’t know this) was so that her bits could be cut out for the version that would play in the South), but then neither was Dinah Shore, who got a lot more chances to prove it. I also think that her style of singing, which was more soulful and often acerbic, did not lend itself to the kind of movies that were popular at the time. It’s hard to imagine her taking Ginger Rogers’ses’ place in one of her movies, you know? Still, I think accepted is a complicated idea for what happened in Lena Horne’s career.

Of course, she did have tremendous success as a singer, recordings and concerts and so on, and that’s great. She doesn’t quite crack the top level as a singer, for me (which consists pretty much entirely of Ella and Billie), but she holds her own with, say, Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee and Anita O’Day and Ethel Waters and Lee Wiley and that group just below it. I have the impression that’s where she has been in the public consciousness as well. Well, and I think some of the people I put on that level are overlooked or forgotten, and Lena Horne is not. Is that because of her beauty? Probably, in large part. And her longevity; she was still worth listening to in the early eighties, although of course her beauty had faded.

Well. Y’all have likely been hearing “Stormy Weather”, which was her signature tune, and wonderful. But if you really want to hear something, listen to this:

That’s marvelous.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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