Clairdee: A Love Letter To Lena

Nicholas F. Mondello BY

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Clairdee: A Love Letter To Lena
Revered decades after her passing, Lena Horne has remained an icon in the realms of music, stage & screen, and civil rights activism. With A Love Letter to Lena, San Francisco-based vocalist Clairdee assumes the task of saluting Horne by way of selections from Billy Strayhorn and other great American composers. And the inclusion of narration and quotes from Horne adds a special perspective and further poignancy to this fine musical effort.

"Old Devil Moon," originally recorded by Horne as a Latin feature, opens things with a hip-grooved arrangement above which Clairdee invokes vocal magic. The late Jim Croce's pop hit "I Got a Name," covered straight, and following commentary relative to Horne's difficult early days, is a perfect selection for Clairdee to superbly express Horne's self-assured attitude. The infrequently-recorded "Maybe," written by Billy Strayhorn (a Pittsburgh friend of Horne's) gets a contemporized arrangement as Clairdee delivers smoothly, and Charles McNeal plays a soulful sax solo.

The inclusion of narrated Horne quotes—delivered by actress Margo Hall—is a brilliant production choice which dovetails emotionally head-on with the ensuing selection. For example, after "Horne" speaks of her encounters with Hollywood racism, Clairdee exudes both despair and hope on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" over John Herbst's piano. The track is dark and dramatic without being overly melancholy and depressing. It hits a hard, emotional belly blow.

"I Want to Be Happy" is a hip take on the old novelty. It is reharmonized and delivered in a samba-like groove. It is marvelously upbeat and sparks, along with Clairdee, superbly effervescent over the party-like percussive rhythm bed. It is a highlight track. "Soulmates"—a spoken interlude telling of Lena's deep personal and professional relationship with Billy Strayhorn—leads into a lush take on "Something to Live For." Here, as elsewhere, Clairdee displays her vast and subtle range of vocal colors and flair with a line. "Stand Up," a speak-sung soul groove closes the session offering confidence and musical motivation for better, more equitable days ahead.

A Love Letter to Lena offers a perfect balance of great music and message, delivered by a fine singer and ensembles. It is a terrific performance and an involving, thought-provoking production.

Track Listing

Old Devil Moon; Home (spoken interlude); I Got A Name; Maybe; Hollywood (spoken interlude); Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Seminar with Drinks (spoken interlude); I Want to Be Happy; Soul Mates (spoken interlude); Something To Live For; I'm Free (spoken interlude); Believe in Yourself; The Movement (spoken interlude); Stand Up.


Clairdee: voice / vocals; Jon Herbst: piano; Ron Belcher: bass; Doug Miller: bass; Deszon Claiborne: drums; Lance Dresser: drums; Johnny Hoy: guitar; Dave Bell: guitar; Mario Guarneri: trumpet; Charles McNeal: saxophone, alto; Emily Onderdonk: viola; Ashling Cole: voice / vocals; Bryan Dyer: voice / vocals; Tony Lindsay: voice / vocals.

Additional Instrumentation

Margo Hall: narrator; Paul Hale: cello; Philip Santos: violin; Kenny Washington: vocals; Janice Maxie-Reid: vocals; Zoe Ellis: vocals; Regina Carter: vocalist.

Album information

Title: A Love Letter To Lena | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Declare Music

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