Lena Horne, the iconic African American singer and native New Yorker who crossed the color line to make it big in the world's of Hollywood and popular music was remembered at a funeral service in Manhattan on May 14. The final sendoff for Horne, who died May 9 at the age of 92, was attended by celebrities, dignitaries and fans.
Hours before the legendary Lena Horne's funeral service was scheduled to begin, mourners and well-wishers had already lined up outside Saint Ignatius Loyola Church to pay their respects.
Rochelle Thompson, an African American woman did not know Horne personally, but credited her with inspiring her own, more humble singing career.
"I am here to celebrate her because that lady stood for me so I could stand here today,” said Thompson. “I am wearing my pearls the way she used to tie her pearls. And in my repertoire I do [the song] 'I've Grown Accustomed to His Face [according] to her version.”
Personal friends such as Marjorie Andrews, who was introduced to Horne thirty years ago through family relations, were also in attendance. She both loved and respected Horne, who was the first African American to land a major Hollywood contract, at a time when blacks were cast only in subservient roles.
"She was a wonderful person and she absolutely outstanding. She had a beautiful voice. She handled herself with great dignity her entire life. She has been an outstanding role model for everybody black and white. It was a great honor to know her, it really was," said Andrews.
Indeed, it was more than Horne's talent as an entertainer that brought artists such as Vanessa Williams, Dianne Carroll, Dionne Warwick and the international opera star Jessye Norman to Saint Ignatius Loyola on Friday.
"I adored her,” explained Jessye Norman. “And I still do. When one imagines that a talent that great and a person with that much inner and outer beauty could have had obstacles simply because of the color of her skin, it makes me weep."
Many top dignitaries, like New York State Governor David Paterson, also made a point of coming to Horne's memorial service.
"Well, I know the family so I would be here anyway,” said Paterson. “But even if I didn't, it's the fact that Lena Horn is an icon of American history. I loved her music. I loved her. I never met her, but I feel the loss."
Bill Wheeler, a decorated Tuskegee combat pilot, remembered the joy Horne brought to his fellow African American servicemen during her visits to their Army Air base in Alabama between 1943 and 1945.
"She would come down to our graduation ceremonies and it was incredible the effect she had on the entire population of the base,” said Wheeler. “We all loved her! It was a new world, okay? Instead of being the humdrum statistical world, everything seemed to turn into butterflies and perfume. But she was also a fighter. She was a freedom fighter. She fought for what she believed and she stood for what she believed in. and that was anything that was fair. And that characterized her until she died."
Soon, inside the packed church, Horne's coffin was solemnly brought in, and the congregation began to sing an old spiritual hymn dear to Horne herself. After an hour-long service of words both sacred and nostalgic and of course, music, the world finally said goodbye to the legendary Lena Horne. She was 92 years old.