by Verena Dobnik
NEW YORK (AP)– Lena Horne, whose signature song was “Stormy Weather,” was remembered at her funeral on Friday as a shy girl from Brooklyn who fought racism for decades to emerge as a world-class singer and social activist.
“She was so many ideas existing all at the same time in the same space and they were all conflicting and they were all true,” her granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, told hundreds of mourners at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan.
They included fellow entertainers Chita Rivera, Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick, Cicely Tyson and Jinji Nicole.
“I’ve tried to sum her up and I can’t sum her up,” said Lumet, daughter of the late director Sidney Lumet. “To sum something up means it’s over — and I think that she’s not over and that she’s quite infinite.”
Horne, who died Sunday at 92, was one of the first black performers hired to sing with Charlie Barnet’s white orchestra in the early 1940s, playing the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. When she signed with MGM, she was one of the rare black actors to have a contract with a major Hollywood studio.
In 1943, MGM lent Horne to 20th Century Fox to play the lead role in the all-black movie musical “Stormy Weather.” Her rendition of the title song became a major hit — reflecting the ups and downs of her life, which included a second marriage to Lennie Hayton, a Jewish musician working for MGM with whom she shared the social pressures of being an interracial couple.
For years, Horne entertained white audiences with her impressive musical range, from blues and jazz to such Rodgers and Hart songs as “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” But she was often not allowed to socialize with whites, especially in the segregated South.
“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once told an interviewer. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed.”
Horne plunged into activism after 1945, when she performed at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting in front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.
Aging members of the so-called Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black World War II pilots, attended the funeral.
Among them was Roscoe Brown Jr., who commanded an Air Force squadron and now directs the Center for Urban Education Policy at the City University of New York.
“This wonderful, beautiful lady, Lena Horne, came to visit us,” he told mourners. “She sang, she talked with us and she made us all her boyfriends.”
The men took her picture “and put it on our barracks, on our planes, and she became our pinup girl,” he said.
During the two-hour funeral, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, also delivered eulogies for a woman who was blacklisted in the 1950s for her activism and unable to perform.
But she emerged a major cultural figure, capped by her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which won a special Tony for the fierce passion of her truths in music.
In Washington on Friday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., paid tribute to Horne by introducing a bipartisan Senate resolution that passed unanimously, recognizing the Brooklyn native’s legacy as a Hollywood trailblazer and civil rights activist.
Horne’s funeral was held in the Upper East Side church where she brought her family each Easter for years.
The former pastor, the Rev. Walter Modrys, recalled in his eulogy how shy the seemingly bold performer really was in private. But onstage, she shifted into her “performance mode,” he said.
When Horne turned 80, New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts staged a tribute to her. At the end, she was asked to sing.
“She started slowly, but one could see her confidence was rising, and I thought to myself, here comes that persona,” Modrys said. “And sure enough, we watched the transformation of an elegant 80-year-old woman into the 25-year-old starlet that no one could ever forget.”
Jenny Lumet smiled as she recalled being “a small child loved by this woman.”
“Her beauty was so deep you could swim in it,” with hands “like orchids” graced by “all these gold bracelets that would jingle, so when I was in her stuff, I knew she was coming … . Her bling!”
Standing at the altar, Broadway star Audra McDonald sang “Amazing Grace” over Horne’s white-and-gold-draped casket.