Lena Horne At 100: WW2 Memories Of Meeting Her

Today’s her century mark, and although she left us in 2010, Lena Horne ‘s memory is still treasured by this and millions of other fans. She was not only a great singer, but also a fiery personality and fighter for civil rights.

I experienced a face-to-face example of Lena Horne’s attitude way back during WW2. I was 18, just out of Navy boot camp in late 1943, and a lowly go-fer messenger for the public info office at the Great Lakes Navy Station in Illinois.

My duties often required escorting visiting USO entertainers to the station auditorium for their performances. To my teen excitement, they included Bob Hope, Ethel Merman, Jack Benny and other famous stars of the era.

On the day Lena Horne arrived, I took her and a quartet of her musicians to the auditorium. While they set up for rehearsal, I asked Miss Horne if she had any requests. In that glorious voice, she gave me a shocking answer.

She insisted that the first three rows were to be given to black sailors. Knowing it was absolute protocol for those seats to be occupied by the top Navy officers, I told her the request couldn’t be honored. What I didn’t say was that in 1943, black sailors were only allowed in the back rows and balcony. Shocked, I backed off and went looking for the officer in charge.

I brought him to Miss Horne and waited for her to be told off. However, one look into those beautifully glaring eyes, and he humbly met her demand. I enjoyed the performance, especially when I saw the top officers fume and fuss as they were led to seats far from the stage.

Of course, Lena Horne captivated everyone in the audience when she sang familiar hit songs of the time. They included Stormy Weather, The Lady Is A Tramp, Honeysuckle Rose and Someone To Watch Over Me.

5 thoughts on “Lena Horne At 100: WW2 Memories Of Meeting Her

  1. Daniel Goldberg

    Hi, I’m writing a book about Great Lakes and the black men who served there. Do you remember what year Lena Horne was there?

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    1. Ted Post author

      She performed in early 1944. I was at Great Lakes from late 1943 to June 1944. Good luck with your book on Lena Horne. She was a very talented lady, and an early civil rights pioneer. Ted

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  2. Daniel Goldberg

    Thank you – I read that she was escorted to the stage by Reginald Goodwin, one of the first black officers in the Navy. Do you have any recollections of that? I’d be fascinated if you did.

    Thanks,
    Dan

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    1. Ted Post author

      I recall encountering my first black officer at the Treasure Island Navy base in San Francisco Bay, probably in late 1944. I was with a group of sailors. One wise guy remarked, “Do we salute or lynch him?” Not funny, but typical of that era. After college, my Naval Reserve Aircraft Carrier Group was reactivated in 1951 during the Korean War. I was a CPO, assigned a compartment aboard the carrier with another CPO, a black teacher in civilian life. We had frequent run-ins with other CPOs, mostly Southerners. Included were loud remarks in the mess hall about those damned Nigger and Jew chiefs.

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      1. Daniel Goldberg

        The timing sounds right. Graham Martin and Frank Sublett, two of the first black officers were both stationed there in late 1944. They were yard patrol and yard oilers. I don’t know if any of those names ring a bell. I take it you didn’t have much contact with Camp Robert Smalls while you served at Great Lakes.

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