In 1936, life on the road means sleeping on the bus or in hotels for blacks only. After finishing her tour with Nobel Sissel’s orchestra, nineteen-year-old Lena Horne is walking the last few blocks to her father’s hotel in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. She stops at a lemonade stand and meets a Lebanese American girl, Marie David. Marie loves movies and adores Lena, and their chance meeting sparks a relationship that will intertwine their lives forever. Lena also meets Josiah Conner, a charismatic teenager who helps out at her father Teddy’s hotel. Josiah often skips school, dreams of being a Hollywood director, and has a crush on Lena. Although the three are linked by a determination to be somebody, issues of race, class, family, and education threaten to disrupt their lives and the bonds between them.
Lena’s father wants her to settle down and give up show business, but she’s entranced by the music and culture of the Hill. It’s a mecca for jazz singers and musicians, and nightspots like the Crawford Grill attract crowds of blacks and whites. Lena table-hops with local jazzmen as her father chaperones her through the clubs where she‘ll later perform. Singing makes her feel alive, and to her father’s dismay, reviewers can’t get enough of her. Duke Ellington adores her, Billy Strayhorn can’t wait to meet her, and she becomes “all the rage” in clubs and Hollywood for her beauty and almost-whiteness. Her signature version of “Stormy Weather” makes her a legend. But after sitting around for years at MGM as the studio heads try to figure out what to do with her, she isn’t quite sure what she’s worth.
Marie and Josiah follow Lena’s career in Hollywood and New York through movie magazines and the Pittsburgh Courier. Years pass until their lives are brought together again when Josiah is arrested for the murder of a white man. Marie and Lena decide they must get Josiah out of prison—whatever the personal cost.
Bestselling author Kathleen George spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE BLUES WALKED IN:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will learn more about Lena Horne, Pittsburgh, and a history of racism in the 30s and 40s in the music world.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
The crimes are quiet, in danger of being buried, but the impact is huge.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
I learned about the famous Hill District in Pittsburgh, how vital it was with every sort of ethnicity living there at one time. I also learned about Lena Horne’s many struggles.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
A sense of suspense rises, not just because of the almost buried crimes, but also because of the longings for love–will the marriages bring happiness?
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
This is the hardest question to answer! I read voraciously. The answer is everything. I am in constant conversation with all I read.
To learn more about Kathleen, please visit her website.