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Lena Horne Forever

29 Jan

On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service will issue the Lena Horne Forever stamp.

Lena Horne Forever2

The 41st issuance in the Black Heritage series honors the achievements of Lena Horne:

Horne began her career as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club and later became a featured vocalist with touring orchestras. The rampant racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel and venue managers and others was so disconcerting that she stopped touring, and in 1941, she made her move to Hollywood. A year later, she signed a contract with MGM — one of the first long-term contracts with a major Hollywood studio — with the stipulation that she would never be asked to take stereotypical roles then available to black actors. Her most famous movie roles were in “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather,” both released in 1943.

During World War II, Horne entertained at camps for black servicemen, and after the war worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who were facing discriminatory housing policies. She worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in pressing for anti-lynching legislation. In the 1960s, Horne continued her high-profile work for civil rights, performing at rallies in the South, supporting the work of the National Council for Negro Women, and participating in the 1963 March on Washington.

On Horne’s passing in 2010, President Barack Obama said:

Over the years, she warmed the hearts of countless Americans with her beautiful voice and dramatic performances on screen. From the time her grandmother signed her up for an NAACP membership as a child, she worked tirelessly to further the cause of justice and equality. In 1940, she became the first African American performer to tour with an all white band. And while entertaining soldiers during World War II, she refused to perform for segregated audiences – a principled struggle she continued well after the troops returned home.

From sultry Selina Rogers in “Stormy Weather” …

… to sweet Georgia Brown in “Cabin in the Sky” …

… and Glinda, the Good Witch in “The Wiz,” the legendary performer entertained millions.

Horne’s activism and willingness to speak truth to power inspired millions, including the writer.

Lena Horne Collage2

The trailblazer and civil rights activist will be in the public’s memory forever.

Lena Horne Forever

The First Day of Issue Stamp Dedication Ceremony will be was held at Symphony Space in New York City. The Lena Horne Forever stamp is on sale nationwide at post offices and online at The Postal Store.

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Merry Christmas

24 Dec

The Christmas season is hard on folks who are too broke to pay attention. But if you are a literary giant like Langston Hughes, your DIY Christmas cards end up on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Michael Morand, the Beinecke Library’s communications director, told Hyperallergic:

Langston Hughes’s extensive archives provide numerous insights into his long life and career. His 1950 typewritten Christmas postcards illuminate a period when his finances were limited though his friendships remained abundant. He wittily addressed his wide circle of friends that year with verse that tell how times were tough and still convey resilience and joy. Likewise, the 17 boxes in the archives of Christmas cards he received and kept over many decades demonstrate the breadth and depth of his personal and professional relationships with other cultural and civic leaders.

Langston Hughes - Broke and Busted2

Leonard Bernstein@100

4 Dec

This year marks the centennial birthday of several jazz luminaries, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Thelonious Monk. Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 but the celebrations are already underway. The worldwide festivities will continue until August 25, 2019.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein had a longstanding appreciation of jazz, blues and spirituals. His 1939 Harvard University bachelor’s thesis was entitled, “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

From LeonardBernstein.com:

From his earliest years, jazz was an integral part of Bernstein’s life, and it made a crucial impact on his own music.

As a teenager in the 1930s, he put together a jazz band, was famous for his jazz piano playing at parties, and directed a swing band at summer camp. Some of the jazz-inflected music he composed in the mid-1930s at Harvard, and later at Curtis [Institute], provided source material for future works. Perhaps most significantly, his undergraduate thesis was no less than an assertion that jazz is the universal basis of American composition. In New York soon after college, he got to know jazz intimately, by day transcribing for publication the improvisations of legendary players like Coleman Hawkins, and playing piano in jazz clubs at night.

About 15 years ago, I first saw this video of Bernstein conducting Louis Armstrong performing “St. Louis Blues” with the composer, W.C. Handy, in the audience. The images are forever etched in my mind.


Last Saturday, I attended the Louis Bernstein Marathon at the CUNY Graduate Center, an eight-hour concert that featured performances of Bernstein’s most popular work. For me, the event was a mash-up of two of my passions: good music and historic preservation. The CUNY Graduate Center is located in the repurposed B. Altman & Co.

B. Altman

For Louis Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, go here.

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