LENA: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Home by James with Kathleen Benson Haskins

LENA: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Home

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Slightly more candid but no more absorbing than Haskins' YA Home biography (see above), this routine workup follows the singing star through her long, eventually triumphant career--emphasizing, not always persuasively, her shifting attitudes toward race and racism. Too dark for the white world, too light to fit Negro stereotypes, ""copper-colored"" Lena came from a middle-class, educated Brooklyn background--but spent her early childhood on the road with her divorced mother, an ungifted actress who often left Lena with abusive custodians. Later, too, in her first job, as a 16-year-old Cotton Club chorine, Lena ""was a stranger in her own world."" Touring with bands ""meant a constant experience of racism."" Teenage marriage, an attempt at independence, was a stormy failure, producing two children--one of whom Lena had to give up. (""To this day, Lena regrets not having put up more of a fight for custody of Teddy."") And, after some consciousness-raising from the Cafe Society crowd, Lena decided ""to try to be a pioneer in Hollywood. She realized she would be sacrificing her own happiness, but she felt a sense of mission."" Disappointment followed, of course: stereotyping, ostracism by the black-actor community, which called her a ""tool of the NAACP."" Even though she was ""the nation's top black entertainer"" in the mid-1940s, hostility and exploitation continued--especially after her marriage to white musician Lennie Hayton, her 1950s blacklisting. So Lena became ""cold and distant,"" except for the happy, family-like B'way experience of Jamaica, until the civil-rights movement gave her a ""real sense of her own identity."" And ""triple tragedy""--the deaths of father, husband, son--was needed ""to crack her heart open and lay her feelings bare"": her performances in the 1970s and '80s were more relaxed, open, culminating in her one-woman-show smash hit. Except for a few scattered remarks, Haskins gives no attention to Horne's singing itself, never illuminating its fascinating evolution through the decades. His interpretation of her personal motives and crises is often platitudinous, always pat and simplistic. So only those satiSfied by a reasonably complete documentary record--with a sprinkling of psychological speculation--will find this much of an addition to Lena's eloquent, if dated, 1965 autobiography.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Stein & Day