“Stormy Weather” is a 1933 song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Ethel Waters first sang it at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem in 1933 and recorded it that year, and in the same year it was sung in London by Elisabeth Welch and recorded by Frances Langford. It has since been performed by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Clodagh Rodgers, and Reigning Sound and most famously by Lena Horne and Billie Holiday. Leo Reisman‘s orchestra version had the biggest hit on records (with Arlen himself as vocalist), although Ethel Waters‘s recorded version also sold well. “Stormy Weather” was featured in the 1943 movie of the same name.
The song tells of disappointment, as the lyrics, “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky”, show someone pining for her man to return. The weather is a metaphor for the feelings of the singer: “stormy weather since my man and I ain’t together, keeps raining all the time.”
The original handwritten lyrics, along with a painting by Ted Koehler, were featured on the (US) Antiques Roadshow on 24 January 2011, where they were appraised for between $50,000 and $100,000. The lyrics show a number of crossings out and corrections.
- The first line of “Weather with You” by the Australian group, Crowded House, is “Walking ’round the room singing ‘Stormy Weather.'”
- Lena Horne first recorded the song in 1941 for RCA Victor. In 1943, she recorded another version of Stormy Weather for the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM). Horne recorded the song at least five times throughout her career. Horne’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
- Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with Paul Robeson. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen” according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because the U.S. Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. Seeing the black soldiers had been forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where the black troops were seated and performed with the Germans behind her.
- Horne died on May 9, 2010, in New York City of heart failure. Horne’s funeral took place at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Thousands gathered to mourn her, including Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams, Lauren Bacall, Robert Osborne,Audra McDonald and Vanessa Williams.