Lena Horne 1917 – 2010 RIP

She was one of my mother’s favorite entertainers.   I recall the times my mother would talk about how she and her friends would go out on the week-ends to the Savoy Ballroom  and other Harlem clubs back in the early forties.  My mom had recalled stories about Lena Horne, either performing or just mingling among the wide eyed twenty-somethings who adored her beauty, glamour and penache at the Savoy.

My personal recollection of Lena Horne was 1950, when I was four years old, and my mother took me to a matinee performance at  the Apollo Theater to see the show and she ran into Ms. Horne in the lobby. As they talked I was looking at the pictures of the stars who had played there over the years and saw her picture.  It was about that point when my mom introduced me to Ms. Horne,   

Thursdays was my time to spend with my mom who had worked as a live-in domestic for a while and always had Thursdays off.  We went to the Apollo almost every Thursday along with visiting other now famous, Harlem landmarks.

We’d always do Chock-Full-O-Nuts first, which was located on the corner of 125th Street and 7th avenue.  She’d have her cream cheese sandwhich on raisin-nut bread and coffe, light.  I’d have a hotdog and orange drink and to top it off at the end, my favorite coconut creme pie or whole wheat donut. The quality time was perfect, in my four year-old mind.

 Then we were off to Blumsteins where she would always buy me something nice to wear. 

It seemed our last stop was always the Apollo theater, where my mom would introduce me to some of her “Stompin’ at the Savoy” friends, who happened to be musicians and entertainers.  As an only child, those are some of the best memories of my very early childhood. 

But I digress…Lena Horne was this very angelic looking lady who looked like no one I had ever seen in everyday life.  She was amazing looking, and as I recall, quite nice as well.

(This is something I remember quite clearly to this day:  I received countless silver dollars from my mom’s entertainer friends, every time they saw me.  Great times back then!) 

Here is what I found on You Tube about Ms. Horne:

Part 1

Part 2

9 Comments

Filed under Lena Horne

9 responses to “Lena Horne 1917 – 2010 RIP

  1. LongTimeLurker

    Wow, kstreet, what an enchanting little glimpse of some of your memories of old Harlem. I can imagine you all dressed to the nines out with a Mom who wanted to show you places and people that would inspire you and provide you lasting memories. I think we are the same age, so I have an idea of what Harlem was like when you were four.

    But would it be getting too personal if I asked who took care of you as an only child at age four while your Mom worked as a live-in domestic? Your father? – Just my natural curiosity about an interesting person’s experiences.

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    • LongTimeLurker

      BTW, I always thought Lena Horne had a nose job. Have you seen her daughter’s nose? I’ve been told I’m wrong. And I guess I’ve come to believe it now.

      But for me, Lena Horne’s nose has been what I have found most intriguing about her.

      (And I don’t mean that in a snarky way.) :)

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      • LOL, LTL. Nose job? I dunno, but I always thought of her as a very talented, beautiful woman.

        My mom was a single parent. My mother’s only sister and her husband were my care givers for that period. We all lived together until 1967 when my aunt died at 42. My mom died 10 years later at 54.

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  2. That was beautiful Kstreet !!!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts & feelings about Ms. Horne.

    There’s another angel in heaven today, serenading the Lord.

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    • Thanks Kato. Actually writing about Ms. Horne, as well as my mom taking me to those places in Harlem when I was little, has prompted me to write more about me and my mom’s time together when I was a wee young one. :)

      I have decided to write a memoir of those times, as I recall them, so that my grandchildren can have something to look back on for generations to come.

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  3. Meesh

    Absolutely beautiful KStreet! What a homage!

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  4. Glix

    kstreet — You must be a wonderful mom, having been raised by your wonderful mom. And you got to meet Lena Horne too. She was so glamorous!

    Now I’m wondering if you have met other show business greats. (and sooooo jealous)

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    • Thanks for the compliment, Glix. My mother had her moments, thats for sure, but she certainly did a good job of raising me. I will always have fond memories of my mother’s unconditional love for me and her many ways of showing me as much, on a regular basis. I still miss her dearly..

      Yes, Glix, I met many “celebrities” in Harlem from the time I was about 4 until I was about 12. I remember many were bandleaders/musicians as well as people who worked the “chitlin circuit” in the 50′s like Mom’s Mabley, Nipsey Russell, Erskine Hawkins, Ms. Fitzgerald, Redd Foxx, Etta James, Dinah Washington, and more that I can’t recall.

      We lived in the Bronx during those years, but my mom sent me to a private school in Harlem called “Mt. Zion Lutheran ‘School On The Hill’ (Sugar Hill) where many celebrities’ kids attended. I guess her friends told her where to send me when she expressed concerns about me attending public school. In fact my second grade teacher was jazz musician Erskine Hawkins’ wife. There was also a dance and acting studio on the upper floors of the school where many prominant actors and dancers honed their skills. There was also a yearly pageant or musical in which all the student body (grades 1-6) participated. My years there were filled with art and religion and some adequate academic courses, most notably, Black History.

      So I was pretty much surrounded by that genre of folks for a good 8 years or so, between my adventures with my mom and my elementary school experience.

      Definition of “Chitlin’ Circuit”:

      The term “chitlin’ circuit” is derived from a popular item which appears on many Southern soul food menus: chitterlings. Chitterlings, also called chitlins, are pig intestines which are meticulously cleaned and then stewed or fried. Chitlins have become closely associated with black culture in the United States, although in fact they are popular among Southern whites as well.

      Segregation laws in the United States presented a unique challenge to entertainers. Some black entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, and Cab Calloway were admired by blacks and whites alike, but they were not allowed to perform in segregated venues. When arranging tours, black entertainers were restricted to the chitlin’ circuit, because these venues were the only places safe for black musicians, comedians, and other performers.

      Baltimore is often viewed as the heart of the chitlin’ circuit, thanks to its rich tradition in the arts. The chitlin’ circuit wound upwards into the Northeast, with many musicians making stops at places like the Cotton Club in New York, and then stretched into the Midwest, encompassing stops like the Fox Theater in Detroit and the Regal Theater in Chicago. Entertainers could also loop into the American South, hitting the Victory Grill in Texas or the Ritz Theater in Florida.

      As a general rule, most of the patrons at venues along the chitlin’ circuit were black. However, curious white patrons were welcome in some venues, especially venues which focused on jazz, a form of music which often crossed the color line, recognizing talent wherever it was found. When integration laws mandated the dissolution of “whites only” venues, some black performers chose to stick to the chitlin’ circuit, where they felt more comfortable, especially in areas with de facto segregation which made performing in traditionally white venues a challenge.

      Especially in the field of jazz, some white musicians made bookings under their own names and added talented black musicians to their entourages when those musicians discovered that they couldn’t book such venues on their own. This sometimes sparked controversy, although those courageous musicians have since been recognized for their contributions to the civil rights movement.

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