Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection
at the Library of Congress
Notes on Stormy Weather
Related digital items: Browse "Stormy Weather"
Filmed with an illustrious all-black cast, Stormy Weather was released by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943. Directed by Andrew L. Stone, it is a story of song-and-dance man Bill Williamson (played by Bill Robinson) who reminisces about his career in show business and his off-and-on romantic relationship with singer Selina Rogers (played by Lena Horne). Just back from World War I, the young would-be dancer meets the lovely singer at a soldier's ball and promises to come back to her when he"gets to be somebody." As the years go by, Bill's and Selina's careers intersect in various nightclubs and theaters, providing many opportunities for songs by Lena Horne, Ada Brown, Fats Waller, and Cab Calloway and His Band. Bill Robinson sings and dances in his distinctive style throughout the film. The numerous production numbers for the ensemble of tap dancers were staged by Nick Castle and Clarence Robinson. The film concludes with a big, all-star show for soldiers in World War II. Hosted by Cab Calloway, it features Lena Horne singing the film’s title song, "Stormy Weather," and a spectacular tap duet by the Nicholas Brothers.
Katherine Dunham and Her Dancers appear during the break in Lena Horne's performance of "Stormy Weather," an urban version of the blues. Dunham's dance comes during the section in the song when musicians usually improvise on the theme. In the opening scene, in a rainstorm on a city street, the dancers lean forward on each other, suggesting movements of 1920s black social dancing. As the music swells and becomes increasingly jazzy in the second section, the scene changes to a tropical stage set, and Dunham emerges in a revealing costume (designed by Helen Rose) and dances a dreamlike solo in the midst of the ensemble. Dunham's choreography for this scene is a blend of modern dance and ballet movements with Spanish and Oriental touches. At the end of the dance, the scene shifts back to the rainy city street. The camera then turns back to Lena Horne, who sings a final chorus of her song.
In 2001, Stormy Weather was added to the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board.