Ertugrul Günay / Las Vegas News Bureau / AP
You may or may not know who Marilyn Horne is, but if you’ve seen Horne grace a stage, done a performance on TV or in film or taken a Sunday in Central Park by the horns, you may know her voice. Horne, who celebrated her 90th birthday on Sunday, has been singing since the age of 9.
The first name the public can make out is Marilyn Buchanan. She was a Broadway performer, an actress, a recording artist and songwriter. In 1956, she joined the New York City Opera. Three years later, she sang the title role in Amelia, “a lovely Princess and a Cinderella who learns a secret to live in her heart; a gift from an Angel.” The 1944 version of “The Happy Song” is thought to be the song that put Horne on the map.
She married songwriter John Wilson (his songs include “You Are So Beautiful” and “The Clothes on My Back”), and they created songs that were popular in the ’50s and early ’60s. Some of these favorites include “Uptown, Downtown,” “Blue Skies,” “May the Moon Shine On You,” “Sleepy Kind of Love,” “Love at the Hawkins,” “At the Country Club,” “Amarcord” and “Summertime.”
One of the signature songs of Horne’s was “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” (of the same name), which we will return to later.
Horne’s personal life was what most people remember and remember her for. The tall, slim, elegant singer was adored by Broadway stars, film stars and socialites. Once told by a Hollywood producer that she would be lucky to be a blonde bombshell like Loretta Young, Horne said that she would prefer to be “a dark horse.”
Several times, a blackmailer made a claim that the government had kidnapped Marilyn Horne and sent her for ransom. In 1969, she accepted $200,000 from the FBI in lieu of a trial. She did admit that she had dabbled in prostitution.
Her second husband was jazz pianist David Schwartz. In 1960, she married Israeli composer and director William Seeley. In 1970, after Seeley died, she married ex-husband, saxophonist Peter Bernstein. In 1975, she married Whitney Hepner, a music director and conductor who died in 2011. Horne then married manager Malcolm Phipps in 1992. Horne’s 70th birthday party, in 2011, included a Star Trek episode.
Many singers have had second careers performing on opera stages. Soprano Geraldine FitzRoy does this for the Metropolitan Opera. It is not coincidental that FitzRoy and Horne sang simultaneously at the opening of the 1986 Carnegie Hall season.
Horne had a philanthropic side. In June 1989, she created the Marilyn Horne Foundation, with the goal of “serving, sustaining and mobilizing African American women to impact the world of music.” The foundation’s mission statement stated that Horne was “intimately involved in curating the music of African American women, promoting their appreciation, securing their artistic and creative independence, and providing opportunities for the celebration and enrichment of African American women as agents of change.”
She was at the forefront of the fight for equal pay for women. As a TV commentator, she raised awareness of discrimination against black television actors.
How do you define retirement? On the stand-up comedy stage at the Café Carlyle in 1984, Horne remarked: “I still enjoy life and everything that comes with it. I long for everything in the world to stay the same for everyone.”
About a year ago, Horne traveled to Bosnia to observe and lend support to the war-torn nation’s women’s tennis team.