DAILY: January 15, 2020

Today I go all-in as a Gay Man of a Certain Age and celebrate Lena Horne and Judy Garland.  And, yes, that is the billing I’d give them.  Seeing Lena Horne’s one-woman show The Lady and Her Music on Broadway was one of the seminal moments of my cultural – and even spiritual – life.  I often re-listen to the recording of that one-woman show when I am feeling down and defeated.  Click on the title above to see it all on YouTube.

I also remembered this post from playwright Sarah Ruhl on Facebook that cited Horne when Ruhl was writing about the Trumps deciding to skip the Kennedy Center Honors.   Ruhl wrote:

“I came of age in the culture wars of the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan planned to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and, instead, ended up whittling down its budget by a small percentage. Still, in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed ‘a culture that was as fertile as this new land’ and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.

‘And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,’ he said.

“I never thought I would be quoting Ronald Reagan to make an argument for the centrality of the arts in American life — but his phrase struck me, during the bizarre cultural moment we are living through: ‘Our nation has crowned her greatness with grace.’ Mr. Trump wants ‘to make America great again’ without dissent and without the arts; but can one truly have greatness without grace? ….

“In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values. Perhaps the Trumps didn’t want to compete with the Obamas, who at the 2016 Kennedy Center awards received the longest standing ovation of the evening.

“Mr. Obama met with Marilynne Robinson, a writer he admired, to interview her for The New York Review of Books in the fall of 2015. I think of a president with enough humility and curiosity to interview her — a politician-writer meeting a fellow writer on equal ground, discussing the virtues of the yellow notepad — and I want to weep.”

Lena Horne. Photograph by Richard Avedon
Judy Garland by Richard Avedon
Horne by Avedon


Richard and Judy
Lena by Richard




  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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