As if gorgeous was not enough, Lena was such a fabulous song stylist. To see her was to go on a voyage – she could take any audience and transport them into her private thoughts, her moods, her pleasures, her blues.
But beyond her great gifts she was a fighter with the power to endure. In order to get heard by a larger audience than the Harlem nightclubs where she began, she had to endure all those Jim Crow years of black discrimination when Hollywood only showed her in isolated moments on screen – a spotlighted performer in limbo – never as a character in any story.
She developed a tremendous following in her great nightclub career. I remember the fantastic experience of Lena at the Copacabana as she reined in her audience, looked them in the eye and made them know—this is the essence of woman!
But she also took on the IRS when they refused to allow her to deduct her performance gowns as a business expense, saying she could wear them at any time. After much wrangling they compromised by agreeing to let her deduct only those gowns in which she could not sit down! So — she stood through all her performances…
A great talent and a strong, gutsy woman whose need to sing made her able to withstand shameful prejudice.