SONG: Stormy Weather
ARTIST: Lena Horne
Listen to it here:
Stormy Weather was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler in 1933 and premiered at the Cotton Club by Ethel Waters that same year. The song gained so much traction so quickly that the same year it was released, a German language version was released (with different lyrics) entitled “Ohne Dich (Without You). The song was widely recorded, but the artist most synonymous with the song is Lena Horne, who sang the song in the movie of the same name.
Lena Horne was born in New York City on June 30, 1917, but her family moved to Pittsburg when she was young and then Georgia when she was 5. By 1933 Horne was back in New York City at the famous Cotton Club. Her career as a nightclub started gaining traction and she started getting small parts in feature films as well. In 1944 Horne got a big break by signing a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but would never be featured in a leading role due to her race (many cities would not show Black performers on screens, although Horne was mixed race white, Black and Native American). Horne continued to encounter racism in Hollywood, as with the time Horne lobbied for the role of Julie LaVerne in Showboat as she had performed the role before, but lost to her own close personal friend Ava Gardner. The studio told Gardner to practice her singing along to Horne’s recording, which pissed off both actresses and in the end they used a different singer overdubbing for the movie’s release. Hollywood had lost its shine for Lena (she was tired of being the token person of colour who sings in the movie, and she had been blacklisted for possible left-leaning tendencies), so she turned back to performing in nightclubs, to great success. She broke barriers in 1958 for being the first Black woman to be nominated for a Tony award for her role in the musical Jamaica.
With television becoming more and more popular, Horne was able to expand her visibility to television variety shows. She continued performing on television and stage, culminating with her 333 performance run on Broadway of her show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which closed on her 65th birthday. The show toured after Broadway and shortly after Horne retired from show biz. She passed away on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92.
To this day, Lena Horne holds the record for the longest running solo performance in Broadway history
Ohhhh I love this song. It reminds me of my best friend, he loves this song too! It was interesting researching this song because I was always under the impression that it was written for Lena. I also love that Lena is represented on this list because she was a civil rights icon. I like Lena’s voice but it’s definitely dated and has that 1950s musical theatre quality (think Porgy and Bess or Oklahoma or South Pacific). This sadly isn’t the version of this song I would choose to listen to, which makes me sad because Lena was so cool.
Stormy Weather is another Harold Arlen classic. It sounds a lot like a less optimistic Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I’m going to admit to never having been a big Lena Horne fan. She always seems a bit syrupy and lacking in real emotion in her music. This song is not bad, but there are much better arrangements out there in my opinion. Just listen to Billie Holiday’s version, for instance. The instrumentation and backing band are less cheesy as well. I do like this song, but not my favourite version.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song (include youtube links when possible)
Joni Mitchell, for some Canadian content:
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Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: