Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Lena Horne

Her career began at the fabled Cotton Club in Harlem, when she was just 16, which is remarkable enough; it's only when one considers that the year was 1933, and her debut was with none other than the Duke Ellington Orchestra, that one gets a truer picture of the awesome scope of the lady's talent even at its outset...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLena Horne's movie debut came in 1938, in one of a series of so-called race movies* called The Duke is Tops (later retitled The Bronze Venus to capitalize on Horne's burgeoning fame); soon enough the studios came calling, and Horne signed with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, then the most prestigious dream factory in the world. Her MGM debut was in the 1942 film Panama Hattie, but her fame really exploded the following year when she starred in Stormy Weather, for which she sang the title song.

Horne's career - which could have been far more brilliant even than it was - was marred by the virulent racism of her times; often she would be featured in a film in such a way that when the film was exhibited in the South her part could be excised. In the cities of the north her appearances onscreen would be greeted by rapturous applause, while in the South she remained virtually unknown outside of black communities, due entirely to the colour of her skin.

Tired of shabby treatment at the hands of Hollywood, latterly Lena Horne was better known as a cabaret singer and recording artist. She turned her considerable fame and charisma towards making a difference in the world, by fervently embracing the civil rights movement. Currently she is retired, and no longer makes public appearances; Miss Horne's last foray into the wider world was her condemnation of Janet Jackson following Nipplegate. Jackson had originally been set to play Horne in a long-planned biopic, an idea nixed by the lady herself following the imbroglio.

A one-woman show in 1981 - Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music - still holds the record for the longest-running solo performance by a female in Broadway history.  Today would have been Miss Horne's 93rd birthday, years in which she survived and even thrived in both the recording industry and in films despite the usual pitfalls; she died in May 2010, having overcome everything else...

*In much the same way Jim Crow laws segregated blacks and whites in public spaces, the entertainment industry - especially movies and music - likewise produced 'high-minded' art for whites and far more entertaining, slightly risque, material entirely (and only) for the black market.

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POPnews - June 30th

[Blondin's feats of derring-do were the ideal combination of athleticism and showmanship, and garnered him massive publicity, especially considering that he did them all in the century before the advent of mass media; such a jambon was the talented Frenchman that he attempted the 335 m (1100 feet) crossing not once but several times that day - blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back, even going so far as to once sit down midway to cook and eat an omelette! - and all of it 50 m (160 feet) above the roaring water and billowing mist of the falls.]

350 CE - Roman usurper Nepotianus, of the Constantinian dynasty, was defeated and killed in Rome by general Marcellinus, leader of troops loyal to another usurper named Magnentius.

1559 - France's King Henri II was seriously injured in a jousting match against Gabriel de Montgomery at the Place des Vosges in celebration of both the Peace Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis as well as the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth of Valois to Spain's King Philip II; while the French King later died from the splinter that penetrated his eye, de Montgomery was himself beheaded - not because of the jousting mishap but as a result of his having gotten caught up in the French Wars of Religion.

1805 - The US Congress organized the Michigan Territory.

1859 - French acrobat Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

1860 - A debate on evolution took place at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in reaction to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which had been published seven months earlier.

1864 - US President Abraham Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to California for 'public use, resort and recreation' as a state park; the so-called Yosemite Grant would later bring about the Yosemite National Park.

1882 - Charles J. Guiteau was hanged for the assassination of President James Garfield.

1905 - Albert Einstein published the article On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, in which he introduced his theory of special relativity.

1906 - The US Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act largely in response to the publication of Upton Sinclair's muck-raking novel The Jungle - an eye-opening (and stomach-turning) exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry.

1908 - The Tunguska impact event occurred 5-10 kilometres (3-6 miles) above Siberia, levelling as many as 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometres (830 square miles).

1912 - The Regina Cyclone hit the Saskatchewan capital, killing 28; it remains the deadliest tornado event in Canada's history...

1934 - During the so-called Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler ordered a violent purge of his political rivals, including Ernst Röhm; the operation was codenamed Kolibri - which is the German word for hummingbird.

1944 - The Battle of Cherbourg ended with the fall of the strategically valuable port to American forces.

1956 - A TWA Super Constellation and a United Airlines DC-7 (Flight 718) collided above Arizona's Grand Canyon, killing all 128 on board the two planes.

1968 - The creed Solemni hac liturgia was given by Pope Paul VI.

1971 - The crew of the Soviet Union's Soyuz 11 spacecraft - Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev - were killed when their air supply escaped through a faulty valve.

1987 - The Royal Canadian Mint introduced the $1 coin, known as the Loonie.

2005 - Spain legalized same-sex marriage.

2007 - A car driven by Kafeel Ahmed crashed into Glasgow International Airport in Scotland, in what was believed to be a terrorist attack; the hero of the event was baggage handler John Smeaton, who not only assaulted the badly injured driver - Kafeel Ahmed, who later died of his burns - but rescued a couple of other bystanders from the damage caused by the crash. The passenger in the vehicle, Bilal Abdullah, was later arrested and was later sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences.
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