LENA HORNE: 1917-2010
Posted on 5/10/2010at 5:58 PM
Sometimes, artists who consistently create at a very high level for their entire career get glanced over because they don't have a current "hit" record, or happen to appear in a current box office "smash". It's very sad how American culture at large has the perpetual "quick fix", 10-minute attention span when it comes to celebrities.
When it comes to recognizing great performing art on a larger level, forget it. What's art? Is that on TV? Can I read about that at popeater.com? Is it on BET? If not, I don't know about it....
Lena Horne consistently performed at a high level during her entire career. Never at any point in her career did you get the sense that she "didn't have it anymore". She came from a generation where it wasn't important to be famous, it was important to be good at what you did. If you proved - over a period of time - that you were good, fame would come. But your pride always kept your craft honed. It wasn't about finding an agent, it was about an agent finding YOU!
In 1998, I was a part of a tribute concert to the Nicholas Brothers at Carnegie Hall. I was so completely honored and flattered to be asked to be a part of a tribute honoring such icons, but I was a little embarrassed being on the concert in the first place. I mean, I'm certainly not a dancer by any stretch of the imagination. But nonetheless, I, gratefully, was one of the featured performers that night. It was a night unlike any I can remember - Ben Vereen, Gregory & Maurice Hines, Jimmy Slyde and Savion Glover were among the many great performers that night. Bill Cosby was the emcee.
Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta, who produced the concert, asked if I would "say a few words" to the Nicholas Brothers during my solo spot?
I felt so stupid. What in the world could I possibly say to these icons of dance? I knew that they were from Philadelphia, so maybe I could tie in the Philly thing somehow. I don't remember what I said, but I don't remember making a fool out of myself, so I guess it was cool.
Backstage, word was spreading that Lena Horne was going to make a surprise appearance. For weeks, everyone knew that Ms. Horne was contacted, but not confirmed. If she eventually did confirm, everyone wanted to keep that a secret from the Nicholas Brothers.
Around 9:30pm, Lena Horne arrived. The electricity backstage was suffocating. It's amazing experiencing something you KNOW you'll never see again in those particular circumstances. As the evening approached the finale, Bill Cosby went onstage and said, "Gentlemen, an old friend of yours stopped by to say hello. Let's bring her out." When Ms. Horne hit the stage, she received almost a five-minute standing ovation. The Nicholas Brothers were crying, Lena Horne was crying, the audience was crying, all the performers backstage were crying.
Whew. It was heavy.
As all of the performers were watching her wind down her wonderful, heartfelt speech, Bill Cosby turns to me and says, "Christian... come here." A little surprised he singled me out, I walked over and he said, "Listen, when she finishes, you and me will walk out onstage and....." I said, "Wait! You AND me????" He said, "Which part of 'you and me' don't you understand?" I stood there and waited out his instructions. He said, "When she finishes, we'll walk out onstage and flank her. You get one arm, I'll get the other, and we'll escort her offstage."
Somewhere on this planet is a photo with Lena Horne, Bill Cosby and I. I've never seen it, but I know it exists.
Once we got backstage, I was able to spend a very quick precious moment with the great Lena Horne - the woman Redd Foxx simply called "The Horne". I asked Ms. Horne if I could play with her one day. She said, "It's okay with me, sweetheart. But you'll have to get permission from Ben Brown." (her bassist at the time)
How about that? I shared a moment in time with "The Horne". I've always cherished that moment deeply. Anytime I could be in such close proximity with a true legend, I've always soaked it up as much as humanly possible.
May Lena Horne forever rest in peace.
And after 12 years, Ben Brown is recovering nicely from his injuries suffered shortly after that concert! Haha!