Lena Horne – The Essential Lena Horne – Sony Legacy 88697-75657-2, 92 CDs) 130:27 *****:
(Featuring arrangements by Marty Paich; Lou Bring; Lennie Hayden And His Orchestra; Phil Moore Four;Nat Brandywine Orchestra; Marty Gold; Neil Hefti And His Orchestra; Anthony Morelli And His Sands Hotel Orchestra; Michel Legrand; Billy Strayhorn; many others.)
When Lena Horne passes away earlier this year, an American legend was lost. From her humble roots in Brooklyn, a meteoric career would start in the chorus at Harlem’s renowned Cotton Club. Her incredible voice and stunning looks would lead to Hollywood. After starring in Stormy Weather and Cabin In The Sky (all-black films), she would come face to face with racism. She would be passed over for a bi-racial role in a musical (given to a white actress whose voice was not used in the film). Her commitment to civil rights surfaced during World War II, when she refused to perform for segregated military audiences. She would continue her outspoken (including her support for Paul Robeson) views on race, and was blacklisted. She was at the March on Washington, and worked with the NAACP, SNCC, Medgar Evers and Eleanor Roosevelt, maintaining this avocation for a lifetime.
Despite the roadblocks, Horne would become one of the greatest singers of her generation. Her television and nightclub work would leave an indelible mark. Industry and social recognition awards are too plentiful to detail. Simply put, Lena Horne became one of the most beloved entertainers of all time.
The Essential Lena Horne is an extensive compilation, spanning four decades. Comprised of thirty-eight selections, including six previously unreleased CD tracks, the scope of this extraordinary performer is presented with variety. Studio albums, live performances, and movie songs are brought together. Two versions of her signature number, “Stormy Weather” open and close the CD. Her versatility is on display as she croons through the original 1941 recording, and gives a sultry, jazzy inflection on the definitive 1957 version. The groundbreaking Lena Horne At The Waldorf Astoria, is well-represented with two medleys. “Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo/I’m Beginning To See The Light” showcases a quintessential jazz interpreter, capable of deep emotion and innovative phrasing. The Cole Porter foursome, “How’s Your Romance/After You/Love Of My Life/It’s All Right With Me” is testament to a commanding presence at the front of a band.
What is truly unique is the ability of Horne to reinvent classic standards as proprietary. The Gershwin classic, “Someone To Watch Over Me” seems customized to her vocal dominion, with supple modulation and annotative clarity. Attitude pervades “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home” as the power of this remarkable voice is unleashed. A latter career rendition of the ethereal Michel Legrand, “Watch What Happens” is enticing with melodic nuance. The only Broadway show of this peerless career, Jamaica, is chronicled on the quirky calypso number, “Push De Button”.
This anthology will delight previous admirers, and undoubtedly create new ones.
Disc One: Stormy Weather; Good-For-Nothin’ Joe; I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues; Where Or When; How Long Has This Been Going On; One For My Baby (And One More For The Road); What Is This Thing Called Love?; Love Me Or Leave Me; Let Me Love You; Mad About The Boy; From This Moment On; Love Is The Thing; If You Can Dream; It’s Love; Summertime; New Fangled Tango; That Old Feeling; Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home; Mood Indigo/I’m Beginning To See The Light; Cole Porter Medley (How’s Your Romance/After You/Love Of My Life/It’s All Right With Me)
Disc Two: Just One Of Those Things; Honeysuckle Rose; Ain’t It De Truth; Give Me Love; Someone To Watch Over Me; Push De Button; Speak Low; The Rules Of The Road; You Don’t Have To Know The Language; Napoleon; At Long Last Love; I Concentrate On You; Take It Slow, Joe; Julie Styne Medley (A Ride On A Rainbow/ Never Never Land/I Said No/Some People); I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart; The Man I Love; Watch What Happens; I Will Wait For You; Stormy Weather.
— Robbie Gerson