Pittsburgh’s own Vivian Reed dazzles in tribute to Lena Horne

VIVIAN REED (Photos by Gail Manker)

Pittsburgh native performed many songs from the iconic Lena Horne at the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild

Imagine sitting at a nightclub back in the early 1930s and experiencing the deep-rooted sounds of jazz by the incomparable Lena Horne.

On April 28, at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, those sounds came to life through the amazing vocal chords of Pittsburgh native Vivian Reed.

Full of sass, jazz, soul and a deep down homegirl style, Reed has a unique ability to take her fans back to the time when music told a story of love, pain, strength and joy. On the 100th birthday of Horne, Reed’s distinctive manner of expression reached out to an audience that was honored to be the first to witness the captivating performance of “Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne!”

STUNNING PERFORMANCE—Vivian Reed put on a show to remember at an event honoring the music of Lena Horne, April 28 at the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild.

Taking the stage in true star power, Reed welcomed “Old Friends.” The road traveled took on an in-depth glimpse into the life of Horne. The travels were not easy for Horne, but Reed possessed the talent to tell her journey in a way no one else can. Her admiration for Horne flowed through the audience like the deep melody that arose from within as she moved tirelessly throughout the diverse musical genres.

Reed, the classical songstress, didn’t hesitate to take on the importance of the civil rights movement in Horne’s life. Reed spoke of the scandal created by Horne’s interracial marriage to her beloved Lenny Hayton and the ensuing blacklist. With a voice as strong as the icon’s character, she powerfully performed the difficult times of Horne’s life, emphatically stating, “Lena was a survivor! She once said, ‘It’s not the load that brings you down, but how you carry it.’”

The former Juilliard scholarship recipient recalls a memory that has remained with her throughout her career. “When I was managed by the owner of the Apollo Theater, my manager asked the accountant of the Apollo, who happened to be Lena’s uncle, to ask Lena if she had any gowns she no longer needed and could give to a young artist. Well, a huge trunk of beautiful gowns arrived…a generosity I never forgot.”

As her talent exploded on the stage, Reed was referred to as “The New Josephine Baker.”   She recalls the time Elle magazine did a story on her following multiple comparisons to many other artists.  Despite that “Josephine Baker was a force in Paris,” the good-natured, Tony Award-winning actress breaks into laughter as she proudly stated, “The reporter, obviously tired of the many comparisons, concluded by stating ‘For God’s sake, she is Vivian Reed.’ I loved that!” Amused, she tells the story when her parents told her “I was making melodious tones at the early age of three. I don’t remember that.

OUTSTANDING EVENT—From left: Kevin Jenkins, COO of Manchester Craftmen’s Guild, Vivian Reed and Fred Massey, CEO of Familylinks.

“I was born a classical singer and studied singing at a very early age,” Reed told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “It was a gift from God. That was my destiny. Dance came about later.”

But the energetic singer changes hats like she changes gowns. Her dossier reflects extensive credits in the world of the arts. Among those credits, the expertise of the vocalist extends into the genres of jazz, soul, gospel and classical music. The accomplished dancer and world-renowned, award-winning actress is also a photographer, producer, and currently teaches voice at Marymount College in New York City. She recently added the title of clothing designer, a skill she learned firsthand from her beloved mother, “Who was an amazing seamstress who made many of my beautiful gowns,” Reed said. “Today, my handmade VJR scarves, wraps and silk ponchos are an homage to my mom.”

The evening proved to be a huge success, evidenced by the excitement and warm acceptance of the crowd. Bill Stilz of Tucker, Johnson & Smelzer Inc. “attended the last 12 jazz events and each one is better. My wife and I would not have missed it for the world.”

In collaboration with Marty Ashby of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, “Vivian Reed Sings Lena Horne!” was brought to Pittsburgh by Familylinks CEO Fred Massey, who describes jazz as “a great way to describe how some of our clients come to Familylinks. Jazz is described as orchestrated noise as many different instruments and sounds coming together to make a beautiful melody,” he said. ‘Our clients are similar. Life affects individuals that seem in chaos, but as we work together, it becomes apparent that it is just making you into who you will become in the future, which is ‘Strong For Life.’”

“Strong For Life” certainly describes the fortitude and strength of the incomparable Horne. Pausing as if reflecting on a personal memory, the incredible Vivian Reed smiled and simply said, “She was unlike anyone else. She was Lena Horne.”