Mary Wilson, of the legendary Supremes, possessed the stage in a succession of gorgeous gowns last night at the Walker, performing lush renditions of Lena Horne's signature songs as part of The Lena Horne Project. Author/playwright James Gavin narrated the "living, breathing biography" he lovingly crafted to show the many facets of Horne's life and career.
Still photos projected on a backdrop along with film clips and newsreels brought told Horne's success story, moving from the Cotton Club to MGM's studios, from Las Vegas to the Waldorf Astoria Empire Room, and ultimately to Carnegie Hall and the comeback concerts that made her a household name across generations.
Her signature "Stormy Weather" encapsulated a central fact of her life: that her reluctant stardom was achieved against a background of rampant racism. Miss Horne could sing for the elite but she could not live next door to them. Gavin's tribute doesn't mince on reality, using anecdotes to make the point that while Horne's life appeared glamorous, she wrestled with the rage of a dream deferred. As a civil rights activist, she recognized she could "hardly could sing, "Let My People go" while wearing a $1,000 dress."
Such was the dichotomy, yet her fierceness of determination to succeed shaped her philosophy of taking personal responsibility: "If you believe in yourself I will believe in you." With an excellent on-stage trio - piano, bass, drums - the tribute brought home the work we still need to do to build a just society. The show was based on Gavin's 2009 biography of Horne, Stormy Weather, published by Simon & Schuster. Nov. 15 at the Madame Walker Theatre