"How do you like the building?" Alejandro Orfila, general secretary of the Organization of American States, asked Lena Horne, welcoming her to a gala reception in the Great Hall of the OAS building.
"It's very spectacular," said Horne. "The banners are beautiful."
"Twenty-eight banners," said Orfila proudly, ushering the guest of honor into the enormous hall, where hundreds of guests had been waiting for more than an hour while she recovered from her spectacular benefit performance at the Kennedy Center.
One of the guests was Horne's daughter, Gail Lumet, who looked more like a sister to the perennially youthful singer, who looked about a quarter-century younger than her 63 years.
"How long do you think it will be before you're older than your mother?" someone asked the daughter.
"Next year -- maybe last year," she said. "She's a hard act to follow."
Darrold Hunt, conductor of the Urban Philharmonic Orchestra, concurred. "Any musician, no matter what he does, can learn a lot from that lady," he said.
Hunt was also impressed by the musical abilities of students from Duke Ellington High School, whose jazz band played at the Kennedy Center and again in the reception at the OAS. Was he looking for recruits for his orchestra, he was asked. "We're not planning a sax section in the Urban Philharmonic yet," he said, "but I have heard some fine young talent tonight."
Effi Barry was welcomed to the reception by Gerson Nordlinger of the National Symphony's board of directors. 'You're going to look just like her when you get older," said Nordlinger. "You have the same fine, chisled cheekbones."
"I love you," replied Barry. "You've given me hope for the future."
Among the hundreds of happy people at the reception, one of the happiest was Jewell Sheppard, executive director of the workshop for Careers in the Arts, which is raising funds for the Duke Ellington High School to match a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
"I would like to declare the Lena Horne Gala an unqualified success," she said. She was not sure exactly how much money has been raised during the evening, but she said that all tickets had been sold for the Kennedy Center performance, and she estimated that the proceeds would be between $50,000 and $60,000. The workshop must raise $250,000 per year for three consecutive years to match the National Endowment grant, and Sheppard estimated that this year's total has now reached approximately $180,000.
"Our next step will be a mail campaign for people who want to help the school but couldn't pay $100 for a ticket tonight," she said."And we will have benefits given for us by the four Seasons Hotel, Neiman-Marcus, and Garfinckels. They all believe in what the school is doing and want to help. And we are working hard on getting corporate sponsorship." Then she turned back to an intense conversation with Ron Lee, director of business and community affairs for Xerox, which picked up the tab for the lavish buffet reception.
Horne, who had changed into a red silk Chinese gown, was mobbed by autograph-hungry fans throughout her short visit to the OAS building.
"She's the greatest," said one.
"I can't get near her," said another, on the fringes of the crowd.
"Push a little," replied a friend.
"Can't get anything worthwhile without a little pushing, now and then."