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Lena blows a sweet horn. These are muted, sometimes plaintive, sometimes shrill high notes of a life of triumph and pain and the search for identity of the Negro entertainer. The search began in a childhood lived with an atypical family... one of the ""First Families of Brooklyn, a frenetic childhood with Lena transported will-o-the-wisp around the country with her rather fey actress mother or shipped back to her stalwart grandmother who operated as a local clubwoman with a ""polite ferocity."" Then there was her handsome gambling father and finally her temperamental Spanish stepfather. During this period Lena learned about Jim Crow...in Miami-the cops, in Jacksonville--a lynching. She also learned about dirty old men...in one lodging, and sick women...in another. She also learned about black prejudice...she was a ""high yeller."" She became tough, and she learned to use her looks. She started as a chorus cutie at Harlem's famous Cotton Club and was in and out of club stints and Jobs as a Band Singer (where she learned ""powder room prejudice"") and a marriage before she hit Hollywood to become a Negro ""symbol."" There are many candid comments on major personalities in this section which may make a few hackles rise, But mainly she talks about her personal friends: Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, the ""Duke"", Joan Crawford, etc. Then there was her second marriage to Lennie, a Jew, with its natural side effects, tours in Europe, Broadway shows and finally the turning point in her personal life...the summer of 1963: the conference with President Kennedy, the meeting with Medgar Evers, his death and the soul searching brought about by the activated Civil Rights effort. She talks about what was and what is now and the changes she has observed. A Negro who had really no right to sing the blues, no desire to be a symbol, she is finding the freedom to be ""free to speak, frankly as individuals, not as examples, not as 'credits' to our race.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1965
Publisher: Doubleday