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Lena Horne

In this captivating excerpt from “Black Journal,” singer Lena Horne is interviewed by poet Nikki Giovanni. The two discuss a wide range of topics, including Horne’s divorce and remarriage to Lennie Hayton and the then recent arrest of Angela Davis.

AIRED: October 10, 2021 | 0:11:59
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪

>> Welcome to the All Arts

Vault.

I'm James King.

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We hope you enjoy.

>> "Poem for a Lady Whose Voice

I Like."

"So he said: You ain't got no

talent.

If you didn't have a face,

you wouldn't be nobody.

And she said: God created

heaven and earth and all that's

Black within them.

So he said: You ain't really no

hot stuff.

They tell me plenty sisters

take care better business than

you.

And she said: On the third day

he made chitterlings and all

good things to eat

and said that's good.

So he said: If the white folks

hadn't been under your skirt and

been giving you the big play,

you'd had to come uptown like

anybody else.

And she replied: Then he took a

big Black greasy rib from Adam

and said we will call this

woman and her name will be

sapphire and she will divide

into four parts that Simone may

sing a song.

And he said: You're pretty full

of yourself ain't chu?

So she replied: Show me someone

not full of herself, and I'll

show you a hungry person."

That's the poem I did for you.

>> Yes.

I think I should probably tell

you -- you know, maybe other

people don't -- that I had that

said to me in 1942.

I worked at the Howard Theatre

in Washington, and a Black

bandleader told me, "There's

millions better-looking, sing

better, and it hadn't been for

you being picked by white folks,

you know, you couldn't make it."

And it stuck with me a long,

long time in my life.

And I'm still trying to learn

how to sing, but I say, "Inside

every Black woman, there's an

Aretha screaming to come out."

>> You better believe it.

>> And that's me. [ Laughs ]

>> That's -- yeah.

You know, I think that -- I

don't think it -- youare the

most imitated singer -- Black or

white, as they say -- in the

world.

>> I think that happened because

I was picked to -- like the man

said, I was picked at that time

to be what they thought a Black

woman was like.

I was picked even before my own

development.

And when they picked me, they

found they had a tiger by the

tail because they really didn't

know what was inside of me.

And I was made to look like

someone not me.

I was made to look like -- I had

to learn to sing, and I was not

allowed to imitate

rhythm-and-blues records 'cause

they weren't played very much,

and I was raised by middle-class

people who didn't believe in

singing the blues.

And I was made to look like

Hedy Lamarr and so forth and so

on.

That's way before your time.

>> Oh, nobody remembers

Hedy Lamarr.

>> Nobody remembers that.

But I think then the girls who

began to have the opportunity at

that time -- because they had

finally opened the way for

one -- they began to put them

into the same image too, and so

we had a whole decade or so of

girls who thought it expedient

to imitate me because I was

"making it," you see?

>> They say you've been trying

to change your image.

I don't know what that means.

>> Well, I think what it means,

probably, is that since

Greensboro, as recent as that,

and sit-ins, I was able to flee

my establishment stereotype

because young people had freed

me.

And I think that since I always

have been what I am inside that

I've been able to survive

because they really didn't kill

anything Black in me.

>> I was -- 'cause I remember

you were out in, I think,

Las Vegas, and you beat that guy

bloody with your shoe.

>> Yeah, well, I drew a little

blood.

It was in Los Angeles.

>> It was in Los Angeles.

>> That probably was the first

time I felt less lonely.

By the isolation that was

imposed upon me by very nature

of it, and its definitive

isolation from my own people

from white people, this middle

thing that I was in, had kept me

very much alone spiritually,

too.

And I got insulted.

I had frequently done so, but I

hadn't done it at the place

where there were a couple of

reporters around.

And guy made me mad, and I

struck him violently because I

am violent, in a way.

>> Are you trying to say

violence purges the soul?

>> No, he just made me mad.

And sometime your madness just

mounts into, you know, beautiful

madness, and I struck him, and I

got tons of mail and letters and

telegrams from Black people who

said, you know, "Hey, thank

you," and, "How wonderful."

I said, "My God.

I'm not alone."

And that was in the '50s.

I had lived a long time without

that feeling.

And there are so many young

Black people now who I see doing

things that are revolutionizing

me and the world.

>> Let me sort of ask a question

that might be difficult.

Like, you grew up with, not

grew up with, professionally

with Billie Holiday and

Diana Washington.

>> Yes.

>> And you survived, and they

didn't.

Do you -- I'm sort of asking I

guess to respond to that.

Like, why?

Can you?

>> I don't know.

I didn't want anybody to kill

me, I think.

I didn't want them to destroy

me.

I mean, I...

Let's say my -- I won't say hate

because it's very bad, and I've

not allowed myself until

recently to love and open myself

up to love.

I was strengthened by my active

disinvolvement.

Hidden, but it kept me

surviving, and I think my

background, my people must have.

I find great migrations made by

my great-great grandmother on

both sides that I didn't know

anything about until I was in my

40s.

And they survived, and it must

be in us.

I'm sorry that -- you see, I

loved Billie very much.

And I loved Diana.

And they were both very gentle

women to me.

They were very good to me when I

was starting.

And I think I began to know

about "the sisterhood" during

those years.

>> You had a personal tragedy.

Your father died, and then your

son.

>> Mm, yes.

This past six months, I've lost

my father and my son.

And they were both Black men

that I was denied until I was

along in my years.

My father, my mother separated

when I was 3.

And my son was taken from me

when he was 3.

But I got to know them when I

was older.

And they really fulfilled a

great deal.

>> When you got married to

Lennie Hayton, one of the

statements that you made was

that you didn't have the

strength to marry a Black man.

How would you --

>> I had married first a Black

man, and I wasn't a big enough

woman to help him.

I didn't -- I married him

because I had nobody.

I ran away from life as a chorus

girl at 16, and a step-father

who was white that I didn't

understand.

And then I found out how

difficult it was for a Black man

to live at that time and to

exist.

And I failed him.

I didn't know -- I didn't have

enough consolation in myself

because I'd never had it to give

to him.

>> What do you think about the

Angela Davis case?

What do you think about Angela?

>> I think that I hate to see

another one of our -- my young

women being destroyed.

>> When Angela was arrested,

they had a thing uptown.

Her mother came, her sister was

up there.

And one of the Panther 13, I

believe one of the young ladies,

was saying, "They can say Angela

is beautiful and they can say

she's brilliant, but she's right

in the same women's detention

home that the sisters that walk

the street are in."

>> What I'm so afraid of is this

actually is a calculated

genocidal move in many instances

because the threat, the kind of

strength that these young people

have, which may not always be

comparable to the kind that our

ancestors had, is so positive

and so fearless that it

frightens people.

And I don't want to see this

continue.

But sometimes I worry that it's

a concentrated, thought out

effort to not have a young

generation so strong and so

beautiful.

>> Can I ask you one question?

You don't have to answer it.

Recently, a white show asked you

to give them 90 minutes.

[ Chuckles ]

Why did you turn that down?

>> I turned it down because in

the first place, I'd rather do

it on my own show, if I had one,

if we had one.

And I didn't feel like giving my

life to...

To someone that I don't feel

very close to.

>> I want to ask you a question.

What's the sisterhood?

What do you, um...

>> Well, I wouldn't be so crude

as to call it a Black mafia.

But I would say...[ Laughs ]

No, I would say anybody that has

the feeling of clan, and not KK,

but relativeness and familyness

is what my sisterhood means.

>> Yeah, but what...

>> I'm afraid that because I

didn't have one of my own, I've

latched on to the one I'm

entitled to.

>> You never had sisters?

>> Well, I didn't have sisters

or brothers or my mama and papa,

you know?

And so I have you all.

>> Where do you think you're

going?

You know?

>> Well, I'm still a little numb

at the moment from the past six

months.

But I feel adventuresome.

I don't think I'm just going to

stop and sit down.

I don't necessarily mean singing

or...

I'm not a lecturer.

I'm not a writer.

I'm not a...

I'm just, I guess I'm a

performer.

But I feel creative.

And I feel I need to be around

people.

I like it now.

And I don't know what I'm going

to do, but I'm not going to

stop.

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