Smart Set Athletic Club

The Smart Set Athletic Club, featuring Edwin "Teddy" Horne (seated, far right).

Did you know that Lena Horne was the daughter of Edwin “Teddy” Horne, who played basketball for the Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn?

Did you know that the Smart Set basketball team was run by a man named J. Hoffman Woods, who worked as a messenger in New York’s financial district?

Did you know that Woods had a co-worker named Will Anthony Madden who became the manager of the St. Christopher Club basketball team that played against Horne and his Smart Set team?

Did you know that Madden left the St. Christopher team to form the New York Incorporators, whose a star player was a man named Walter Cooper?

Ralph Cooper

Ralph Cooper in 1915, as mascot for the New York Incorporators basketball team.

Did you know that Walter Cooper had a younger brother named Ralph Cooper who was the mascot of the Incorporators?

Did you know that Ralph grew up to become a black film matinee idol, film producer, movie director, and radio personality, who formed his own Hollywood production company and became one of the most successful and enduring entertainment entrepreneurs that Harlem has ever known?

Did you know that Ralph Cooper created “Amateur Night at the Apollo,” for which he was the well-known master of ceremonies for years and years?  “Open up them curtains!” he used to say.

The Duke Is Tops film poster

Film poster for "The Duke Is Tops," Lena Horne's first screen role in 1938, opposite Ralph Cooper.

Did you know that if you like “American Idol” then you and its producers owe a debt of gratitude to Ralph Cooper and his “Amateur Night at the Apollo?”

Did you know that Ralph Cooper gave Lena Horne her first big break in Hollywood, in 1938, by casting her opposite himself in his movie, “The Duke Is Tops,” which he directed and produced?

Did you know that Lena’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote a fascinating book about the Horne family, The Hornes: An American Family, which you can still find in the library or on Amazon?

The Hornes: An American Family

Gail Lumet Buckley's book about her family, the Hornes.

Did you know that I sat down with Ms. Buckley in July 2006, in a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, to chat about the Smart Set Athletic Club, about her book, about history, and other topics? She’s a wonderful, cheerful, heartwarming person.

And she wrote an endearing inscription in my hardcover edition of her book. “With best wishes and great interest in your Black Fives project – Gail Lumet Buckley.”

Rest in peace, Lena Horne. She was a beautiful and incomparable American icon who was with us for what seemed like forever, and who was woven and intertwined into the fabric of our culture in so many ways, and on so many levels.

How will we ever know or fully appreciate just what she meant to us, unless we begin to rediscover who she was and what she contributed all of those years?

I have an idea. Start by telling someone your favorite story of her.

Here is a clip of Lena Horne’s appearance on “60 Minutes” in 1981, interviewed by Ed Bradley, in which she mentions her late father, “Teddy” Horne, among many other things.

And I can’t help but include this memorable (and too-cute) clip of Lena Horne on Sesame Street teaching Grover how to get over his shyness.