January 11 was an unforgettable night as more than 500 people gathered at New York’s Symphony Space for a show-stopping tribute to Lena Horne and a celebratory evening for Schools That Can (STC).
The chatter of the crowd subsided, the lights dimmed, and the sound of Lena Horne voice’s filled the auditorium as the audience watched an emotional tribute to a woman who used her fame as a platform to fight for civil rights and equality for disadvantaged children.
The show kicked off promptly with a moving rendition of her signature song, “Stormy Weather,” performed by the chorus of VOICE Charter School. VOICE has been a partner of STC since 2012, and they paid their own special tribute to the iconic singer and her family by announcing the naming of their upper campus as “The Lena Horne Campus at VOICE Charter School.”
Following VOICE’s performance, emcee Gary Walker, host of Morning Jazz on WBGO (Media Sponsor for the event), welcomed guests with a reflection on Lena’s legacy as a “champion for equality and the cause of the underprivileged.” Gary then introduced a slew of incredible performances from Tony Award winners, nominees and Broadway’s rising stars, which warranted thunderous applause.
The first portion of the evening included powerful performances from Justin Guarini, Rebecca Noami Jones, and Billy Porter.
Left: Rebecca Naomi Jones sings “St. Louis Blues”
Right: Billy Porter sings “My Man”
Michael Druckman, Founder and Executive Chair of Schools That Can, then took the stage to introduce two videos. First, 6-time Tony Award Winner Audra McDonald, shared her regrets for missing the evening and gave a touching homage to Lena Horne, the civil rights leader.
Next, Druckman introduced Schools That Can’s first ever promotional video to introduce new-comers to their important work.
Lena’s daughter and respected author and historian, Gail Buckley, then thanked Schools That Can and the cast and crew for honoring her mother in such a special way.
Gail Lumet Buckley, Daughter of Lena Horne, Historian, and Author
To kick off the final portion of the evening, the Newark Boys Chorus School, a member of Schools That Can’s network that promotes academics, social-emotional learning, and music for all students, sang “Mood Indigo.”
The student choir was followed by Telly Leung, who was then joined by Tony Award Winner and Allegiance castmate Lea Salonga.
Allegiance co-stars Telly Leung and Lea Salonga sing “Old Friend”
91-year-old Marti Stevens, long-time New York lounge singer, sang “I Get a Kick Out of You” and spoke lovingly of her late friend Lena.
Tony-Award nominee De’Adre Aziza followed Marti. Then Tony Award winning lyricist and family friend of Lena’s Amanda Green sang an especially fun rendition of “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” with Rick Lyon and their friend Kermit the Frog.
To close out the evening, Hamilton’s own Emmy Raver-Lampman sang “It’s Love,” and Lindsay Mendez brought down the house.
As performers took the stage, some shared memorable Lena Horne stories as well as insight into what education and equality means to them. It became abundantly clear that everyone in the room understood what the night was truly about: honoring the voice – both as a singer and an advocate for civil rights – of the late, great Lena Horne, and lifting up the voice of students and school leaders across the country advocating for excellent, and equitable, education.
Schools That Can works diligently to close the opportunity and skills gap in education and with over $100,000 raised from The Lena Horne Tribute, STC is excited to continue to strengthen and expand this critical work.
Today, Schools That Can’s network includes over 150 high-performing and high-potential schools serving under-resourced communities across 15 cities, from Boston to Los Angeles. STC was so honored to have teachers, students, and school leaders from more than 25 of those schools come out on a school night to join in the celebration. After all, STC exists to serve, celebrate, and spread learnings from these schools.
Schools That Can would like to thank you for helping to make The Lena Horne Tribute a night that will live in our hearts forever. We hope the evening was as enjoyable and memorable for you as it was for our organization. We also hope that you will join us as we continue promoting educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, a cause for which Lena Horne was very passionate.
For more pictures from the evening, check out our Facebook album!
To relive the whole night or if you missed it, click here.