Lena Horne

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women are going to celebrate a few notable women.  We begin with singer, actress, Lena Horne.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Bedford-sTuyvesant, Brooklyn.  Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne left the family when she was three years old.  Her mother was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron.  She was an actress with a black theatre troupe and travelled extensively.  Lena was raised by her grandparents.  When she was five, she was sent to Georgia to live.  For seeral years she travelled with her mother.  For two years, she lived with her uncle who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

At the age of sixteen, Lena joined the chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer before she moved to Hollywood.  In Hollywood she had small parts in movies, notably Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.  She was never cast in a leading role because of her race and the films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theatres would not show films with black performers.  Interestingly enough, Lena was the first African American elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.

In 1951, Lena wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM’s version of Show Boat but lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner due to the Production Code’s ban on interracial relationships in films. Lena stated in the documentary, That’s Entertainment! III that MGM executives wanted Ava Gardner to practice her singing using Lena’s recordings. Both actresses were offended by this.

Not surprisingly, Lena was disenchanted with Hollywood and she began to focus more on her nightclub career.  She made two major appearances in MGM films in the 1950s, Duchess of Idaho and Meet Me in Las Vegas.  It was during this time that she was blacklisted for her political views.

After she left Hollywood, Lena made waves as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era.  She headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.  In 1958, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical”.  She appeared in variety shows on TV such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Judy Garland Show and in 1969., she starred in her own television special, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.

In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in ABC’s show, Harry & Lena and in 1973 with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena.  She toured the U.S. and U.K. with Bennett.  In 1981, she received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne:  The Lady and Her Music.  In the 1990s she was active in the recording studio.

Lena was also a Civil Rights activist.  She was involved in the movement for years.  In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and Paul Robeson, another blacklisted performer.  During World War II, Lena refused to perfom for segregated audiences or for groups where German POWS were sitting in front of African American servicemen.  The U.S. Army refused to have integrated audiences so Lena ended up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs.  When she saw that the black soldiers were forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where they were seated and performed with the German POWs behind her.  Way to go Lena!

She was a participant at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers the weekend before he was assassinated and she met John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated.  She participated at the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC adn the National Council of Negro Women.  She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, another champion of civil rights, to pass anti-lynching laws.  She received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.

On a more personal note, Lena was married to Louis Jordan Jones.  They had a daughter and a son.  Sadly, their son died of a kidney disease.  In 1940, Lena and her husband separated.  They divorced in 1944.  In 1947, she remarried.  Her second husband was Lennie Hayton, Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM.  In the early 1960s they separated but never divorced.  Lennie died in 1971.  In her biography, Lena, she recalled the pressures they faced as an interracial couple.  She admitted that she married him to advance her career and cross the “color line” in show business but had learned to love him very much.

Fame runs in the family.  Lena’s daughter, Gail, a best-selling author, was married to director, Sidney Lumet.  Their daughter, Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter, is known for her award winning screenplay, Rachel Getting Married.

On May 9, 2010, Lena Horne died in New York city of heart failure.  Among those gathered to pay their respects at her funeral were Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams and Lauren Bacall.  At the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony held on February 27, 2011, actress Halle Berry presented a tribute to Lena.

Notes to Women salute this phenomenal woman who was not afraid to speak out against racism and was the first African-American actress to have a major studio contract with the stipulation that she would not have to play any demeaning, stereotypical roles.  In doing this, she paved the way for other African American actresses.

In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.

I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.

Always be smarter than the people who hire you

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free. I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

I never considered myself a movie star. Mostly, I just sang songs in other people’s movies.

 

lena948504035small

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Horne; http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_lena_horne.htm; http://www.qotd.org/quotes/Lena.Horne; http://www.blackclassicmovies.com/Artist_Profile/lena_horne.html; http://www.biography.com/#!/people/lena-horne-9344086; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0395043/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm

Administering Medication to Parkinson Patients on Time

Lately, *Wendy is plagued with the fear of losing her mother.  Granted her mother *Marian had lived a long and happy life but Wendy was not ready to lose her.  Marian was in her seventies.  She celebrated her 75th birthday a couple of months ago.  Wendy and her sister *Lauren had taken her out for lunch to celebrate.  In the past, Marian celebrated birthdays, Christmases and every Mother’s Day at her home or at one of her daughter’s home.  However, everything changed when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  She couldn’t remain in her home after she fell.  She was a widow and had been living on her own.  She had to sell her home and move into a nursing home.  It took time for her to adjust to living in a room and having to depend on nurses to change and bathe her and do the things she used to do for herself.  It was hard to give up her independence.

She was still able to go and spend time with her children and grandchildren but lately, it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to move around without the wheelchair.  She had gone from using a cane to a walker and now to a wheelchair.  She had fallen several times.  Once Wendy went to visit her and was horrified to see the ugly bruises on her arms.  Marian fell because she tried to do things on her own when she should have called for help.  The nurse would go into her room and find her on the floor.  Thankfully, she hadn’t had any serious falls but Wendy worried about her.  She had heard stories of elderly women breaking their hips and suffering other serious injuries from falls.

Just recently, Wendy received distressing news.  Her sister Lauren informed her that their mother was not responding well because she hadn’t been given her medication that morning.  The last dosage was the night before so she was supposed to get the next one around 7 in the morning but the nurse hadn’t given her.  When Marian’s regular nurse found out two hours later, she decided to wait until 11 to give her her medication.  Lauren was livid.  She demanded to know why the nurse waited instead of giving her mother the medication right away.  As Wendy listened to her sister, she felt sick in the stomach.  Their mother had been without her medication for 15 hours.  She was lying in her bed, with her eyes closed.  She was aware that her nurse was in the room and was responsive but she couldn’t do anything except lie there.  Her nurse kept checking on her to make sure she was okay.  She was relieved when Marian woke up.  Marian’s doctor told the nurse to try to get the medication into Marian which she kept trying to do until she succeeded. The doctor said that it could take 24 hours for Marian to recover as a result of not getting her first dosage that morning.

The Administration at the nursing home acknowledged that two gross mistakes had been made.  The first nurse should have given Marian her 7:00 a.m. meds and her regular nurse should have immediately given her the meds at 9:00 when she realized that she hadn’t been given her first set of meds instead of simply waiting for the next set.  The director assured Lauren that they were taking measures to make sure that this never happened again.  They plan to follow up with the first nurse who neglected to give Marian her morning medication.

Wendy was thankful to God for watching over her mother who is okay.  Tears came to her eyes as she imagined her mother lying there with her eyes closed, unable to do much else and how it could have been much worse…

How many other Parkinson’s patients like Marian do not receive their medication on time?  According to an article written on the National Parkinson Foundation website, hospitals can be danger zones for people with Parkinson’s.

Hospitals are usually a safe haven for people with serious illnesses, but for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) going to the emergency room or being hospitalized can be a nightmare, because their condition is more likely to deteriorate due to inappropriate care and the anxiety of being in an unfamiliar environment.

Parkinson’s patients are often afraid to challenge a hospital’s medical staff, because they assume that they know what they are doing, but many may have little or no knowledge about how to care for someone with Parkinson’s, said Dr. John Morgan, assistant professor at Georgia Health Sciences University.

Three out of four people with Parkinson’s do not get their medication on time when they go to the hospital, which can cause serious complications even death, said NPF’s National Medical Director Dr. Michael Okun. Even more alarming is that research shows that the majority of hospital staff do not know which drugs are unsafe for Parkinson’s patients, and they do not understand Parkinson’s disease.

People with Parkinson’s must take their medication on time, especially those with moderate and advanced Parkinson’s who are taking frequent doses of levodopa, a common Parkinson’s medication, Dr. Morgan said. “If medication is not taken on time, they can become stiff, rigid, tremulous and unable to move and prone to falls, etc. Even one hour off of a scheduled time can make a big difference,” Dr. Morgan explained.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but medication helps control symptoms by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dr. Morgan emphasized that medications should be taken 30 minutes to an hour before meals or an hour or more after meals, because the protein in food can inhibit the absorption of the medication into the body. If a person eats too close to their scheduled medication time, Dr. Morgan said it is better to eat a low-protein meal rather than delay taking medication.

The article mentions that one hour off of a scheduled time can make a big difference.  Wendy’s mother had been 15 hours off her scheduled time.  Another article states, “Medications must be administered on time to promote consistent therapeutic blood levels and prevent disabling symptoms. A delay of even 5 minutes can cause the patient to suddenly lose the ability to move, walk, and speak.”  If Wendy and Lauren wanted to, they could sue the nursing home for gross negligence and failing to administer the proper help.  Marian should not have gone through what she did.  She was in a facility that was supposed to take care of her.  Their negligence could have cost Marian her life.  For now, Wendy and Lauren are hoping that this doesn’t happen again.

Want to get involved in raising awareness for Parkinson’s?  Here’s how.

*These are not their real names.

Source:  http://www.parkinson.org/About-Us/Press-Room/NPF-In-The-News/2012/November/Hospitals-can-be-a-danger-zone-for-people-with-Par; http://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2011/03000/Administering_medications_for_Parkinson_disease_on.24.aspx

Global Renaissance Woman

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone…”

Maya blamed herself for the death of the man who sexually abused and raped her when she was only eight years old.  For five years she remained mute until a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her to speak again.

In her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya touches on her childhood rape.  Rape is used as a metaphor for the suffering of her race. Another metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work, which consists of “a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression”.  Angelou’s treatment of racism delivers a thematic unity to the book. Literacy, and seizing the power of words, help young Maya cope with her bewildering world; books become her refuge as she works through her trauma.

 Caged Bird was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970 and remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book’s graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.

 The success of  I Know Why the Caged Bird sings hailed Maya as the as a new kind of memoirist and earned her the distinction of being the first African American women who was able to publicly discuss her personal life.  She became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for blacks and women. It made her “without a doubt, …America’s most visible black woman autobiographer”.  According to author Hilton Als, Maya made an important contribution to the increase of black feminist writings in the 1970s.  Her writings which were more about self-revelation than politics freed many other female writers to “open themselves up without the shame to the eyes of the world.”

 Angelou is one of the most honored writers of her generation. She has been honored by universities, literary organizations, government agencies, and special interest groups. Her honors include a National Book Award nomination for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nomination for her role in the 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammys for her spoken word albums. 

 In 1995, Angelou’s publishing company, Bantam Books, recognized her for having the longest-running record (two years) on The New York Times Paperback Nonfiction Bestseller List. In 1998, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She has served on two presidential committees, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Musician Ben Harper has honored Angelou with his song “I’ll Rise”, which includes words from her poem, “Still I Rise.” She has been awarded over thirty honorary degrees.

Maya is dubbed the “global renaissance woman”  She is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature.  She travels and continues to captivate audiences with her words and lyrics.  She is a multifaceted woman–poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director and an inspiration for many of us.  Notes to Women salute this amazing woman who found her voice and is using it to spreading her legendary wisdom. 

 I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

   

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Know_Why_the_Caged_Bird_Sings

http://mayaangelou.com/

Oscar History Makers

In light of the Academy Awards which are happening this Sunday, I thought I should salute two women who made Oscar history.  The first is Halle Berry.   Her gutwrenching portrayal in Monster’s Ball of a hard-working waitress struggling to raise an obese son while her husband sat on death row earned her the Best Actress Oscar, making her the first African American woman to accomplish this. 

The emotional scenes in the movie were raw.  In the nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton, Halle seemed to be comfortable with baring it all.  In an interview, she was asked about this.  “But with Monster’s Ball, without this scene, I think it would be a very different movie. I think it’s a pivotal moment and from that moment on, you understand why these two people get together.”  What helped Halle to really let herself go was, the fact that “Billy [Bob Thornton] went to the same place I went to.  He was as naked, as nude, as exposed, as I was. You saw everything on him as you did me. Men don’t have breasts so we didn’t get that thrill.  But he was just as vulnerable.(http://www.beatboxbetty.com/celebetty/halleberry/halleberry/halleberry.htm).

In another interview, she admitted that “it was tough, but like I said, not tougher than when I had to abuse my overweight son. No tougher than that. That was probably tougher than the love scene.”

Halle was not director Marc Foster’s choice for the role of Leticia but Halle pushed until she won him over.  She explains how she managed to convince that she was right for the part and why she was so determined to get it.  “I just know that I was relentless in my approach. I just wanted a chance to sit in the room and tell him who I thought she was. My take on the movie. How I thought I could breathe life into her. I wanted a chance to tell him all these things that were brewing inside of me and I finally got that chance. And then I met with him a couple of times, and then the producer, and then Billy Bob, until they just gave in.

“It’s a wonderful character for a woman to play and we don’t see them that often. I think they are becoming more available but not that often. I think I related to her right away when I read the movie screenplay. I was riveted. I wanted to know what would happen to her. Things kept happening, the unthinkable, twists and turns and I started to care about these people (http://www.iofilm.co.uk/feats/interviews/h/halle_berry.shtml). 

Her persistence paid off.  On 24 March 2002, Halle Berry made oscar history.  “I am so honoured, I’m so honoured, and I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which this blessing might flow. (http://www.cinema.com/news/item/5850/halle-berry-makes-history-with-oscar-win.phtml).

Eight years later another woman makes oscar history.  Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker

“This really is… There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime. First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful, my fellow nominees, such powerful filmmakers who have inspired me and I have admired for, some of whom, for decades. And thank you to every member of the Academy. This is, again, the moment of a lifetime”  (http://www.altfg.com/blog/awards/kathryn-bigelow-oscar-acceptance-speech-494/).

Bigelow was once married to fellow director James Cameron.  Bothwere both nominated for Best Director at the 2010, 82nd Academy Awards.

In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathryn_Bigelow).

Kudos to these two remarkable women who used their talents to make waves in the movie business.  They prove that anything is possible once you set your mind to it.  Each of us can have our “moment of a lifetime”.