goodnight, sweet chanteuse

Very sad hearing the news of the death at 92 of Lena Horne this morning. WRTI is playing her music tonight and it reminds what a big star she was, even as she had to break the racial barriers by virtue of her intelligence, class and talent.

She was the first black woman to receive a studio contract. She left Hollywood for the stage and recording because her parts were cut out of films when they played in many parts of the country.

Her vocal talents were underappreciated, but like Garland, she carved out a category of her own. Singing in front of big bands or with trios her sound was indelible, and her voice still strong on recordings she made just a dozen years ago.

A blue flame torch singer at heart, Horne was also subtle jazz stylist, who worked closely with best pal composer Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s arranger and mostly uncredited co-composer of many Ellington classics.

Strayhorn, who was gay, and Horne were functionally a couple. In fact despite husbands and lovers, they were inseparable. Strayhorn helped her develop her style and accompanied her on piano. In David Hajdu’s great bio of Strayhorn Lush Life, her  musicians talked about Strayhorn’s pychic link to her when she performed.

Horne’s phrasing on standards like Stormy Weather, Love Me or Leave Me and You Go To My Head was among the best renditions of show jazz.