In his 1973 autobiography Music is My Mistress, Duke Ellington writes about his admiration for Lena Horne. In a footnote to Ellington’s thoughts on Horne, he wrote that he inherited the line he was known to use when telling a woman he thought she was beautiful — “You Make That Hat Look Pretty!” — from his father.
Lena Horne is such a delicate beauty. When she decided it was show business for her, before she became of age, she had to be accompanied by her mother when she came to work at the Cotton Club. From bandstands with Charlie Barnet, she went on to movies, and always with a dignity that gained respect. When se moved into Broadway plays, she turned down hundreds of lurcrative contracts because she would not play the part of a maid, a whore, or any of the other stereotypes.
When I introduced Billy Strayhorn to her, they immediately recognized their affinity as kindred spirits, and she and her late husband, Lennie Hayton, always kidded him by calling him their son. An American standard, and the essence of total agreeability, she is what most eligible women would like to be. She may well have been the inspiration for my song:
Oh, gee, you make that hat look pretty!
Oh, gee, you make that perfume smell good!
You glide like a mellow ditty,
Won’t you be my bride? You know you should,
Oh, gee, you make your silence sing!
And when I touch you I feel like a king,
My heart just giggles and skips a beat.
Oh, gee, you make those kisses taste sweet!
Excerpted from Music is My Mistress, by Edward Kennedy Ellington
Lena Horne sings “Stormy Weather”