THE BLUES WALKED IN
Available from the University of Pittsburgh Press
In 1936, life on the road means sleeping on the bus or in hotels for blacks only, so nineteen year-old Lena Horne is walking the last few blocks to her father's hotel in Pittsburgh's Hill District. She stops at a lemonade stand and meets a Lebanese American girl, Marie David, who works at her parent's grocery store in the Hill. Marie loves movies and is enchanted by Lena, but Lena is nervous about becoming fast friends with a poor white girl. Lena also meets Josiah Conner, a charismatic teenager who helps out at her father Teddy's hotel. Josiah often skips school, dreams of being a Hollywood director, and has a crush on Lena. Although the three are linked by an underlying determination to be somebody, issues of race, class, family, and education threaten to disrupt their lives and the bonds between them.
Lena's father wants her to settle down and give up show business, but she is entranced by the music and culture of the Hill. It's a mecca to jazz singers and musicians, and clubs like the Crawford Grill attract crowds of blacks and whites. Lena table-hops with local jazzmen when he father takes her to the clubs and later belts out "Stormy Weather," her signature song, when Count Basie passes through. Performing makes her feel alive. To her father's dismay, reviewers can't get enough of her. Ellington adores her. Billy Strayhorne can't wait to meet her. She's wanted in clubs. She's wanted in Hollywood. For her beauty. For her almost whiteness. Until, after sitting around for years at MGM as they try to figure out what to do with her, she isn't quite sure what she's worth.
Marie and Josiah follow Lena's career in Hollywood and New York through movie magazines and the Pittsburgh Courier. Years pass until their lives are brought together again when Josiah is arrested for the murder of a white man. Marie and Lena decide they must get Josiah out of prison—whatever the personal cost.
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