Stormy Weather (1943): All-Black Musical, Starring Lena Horne and Bill Robinson

A crucial year for the sub-genre of all-black musicals, 1943 saw the release of Fox’s Stormy Weather as well as MGM’s Cabin in the Sky, both starring Lena Horne.

Stormy Weather
Stormy Weather (1943 film poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

Stormy Weather takes its title from the 1933 song of the same title, which is performed near the end of the film.

Directed by Andrew L. Stone, the movie was adapted by Frederick J. Jackson, Ted Koehler and H.S. Kraft from the story by Jerry Horwin and Seymour B. Robinson

The tale is based upon the life and times of dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson plays “Bill Williamson,” a talented born dancer who returns home in 1918 after serving in World War I and tries to pursue a career as a performer.

He meets a beautiful singer named Selina Rogers (Lena Horne), a character invented for the film; Robinson did not have such romance in real life.

Dooley Wilson co-stars as Bill’s broke friend and Emmett ‘Babe’ Wallace co-stars as a rival vying for Lena’s hand.

Other performers were Cab Calloway and Fats Waller (appearing as themselves), the Nicholas Brothers dancing duo, comedian F. E. Miller, singer Ada Brown, and Katherine Dunham with her dance troupe.

The film features some 20 musical numbers, including Waller performing his composition “Ain’t Misbehavin,'” Cab Calloway leading his band in his composition “Jumpin’ Jive,” and a sequence built around the title song, featuring the vocals of Lena Horne and dancing of Katherine Dunham. 

This was Robinson’s final film (he died in 1949); Waller died only a few months after its release.

In 2001, Stormy Weather was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Credits:

Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Jerry Horwin, Seymour B. Robinson (story); H.S. Kraft (adaptation)
Music by Harold Arlen, Fats Waller, Shelton Brooks, Cab Calloway, Jimmy Hughes
Dorothy Fields, Bill Robinson, Alfred Newman
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by James B. Clark
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: July 21, 1943

Running time: 78 minutes
Box office $1.6 million (US rentals)