During this summer of protests jazz songstress Clairdee offers us “A Love Letter to Lena,” a CD that pays tribute to Lena Horne not only because of her talent, but also because the singer fought racism at every turn.

Clairdee remembers that her family gathered whenever Horne was performing on television.

“My parents admired her intellect and talent. They talked about how she carried herself. But more than that, they admired her civil rights efforts,” the San Francisco-based singer said in an interview.

Dimitry Loiseau

Horne got a major Hollywood contract, yet she was given short singing roles that could be cut when movies played in the South. She sang for a living rather than accept demeaning acting roles. The USO forbade her from touring Army camps after she spoke out against the mistreatment of Black soldiers. Later, she participated in numerous civil rights marches and protests.

When Horne died in 2010, President Barack Obama said she had “worked tirelessly to further the cause of justice and equality.”

In her bio, Clairdee, a 2018 winner of the Bay Area Jazz and Blues Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, lists herself as a singer, educator and activist. (Clairdee is her professional name; her real name is Barbara French.)

“My social activism is through the music and the way I work with people,” she said.

She wanted a music project that honored her parents but wasn’t
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