Wilson paying tribute to another icon: Lena Horne

Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, will perform a tribute to famed actress, singer and civil rights activist the late Lena Horne at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Wilson, a Las Vegan since the 1980s, stars in "Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project" on Friday and Saturday in the center's Caberet Jazz. The show is based on James Gavin's book about Horne, "Stormy Weather."

It's fitting that Wilson, an icon in her own right, is paying tribute to Horne. The singer made a lasting impression on Wilson when they first met in the late 1960s. It was at a club in London. Horne was wrapping up an appearance at a venue where the Supremes were scheduled to perform the following night.

"So we were flying over and we heard that Miss Lena Horne was closing the night before we were going to open," Wilson recalls. "We begged Mr. (Berry) Gordy to get us tickets for her last night. Of course it was fabulous to see her live."

The group was invited backstage to meet Horne. Wilson thought she would get a few minutes with the woman who she had long admired as a vocalist and entertainer. They ended up laughing and talking for more than an hour, even drinking Champagne together.

"She was so warm and gracious," says Wilson, whose parents exposed her to Horne's music at an early age. "In our household, she was like a goddess. We had never dreamed we would meet her."

The meeting has stayed with Wilson throughout her career.

"It affected me very much. She was nice, gracious, warm. She treated us so kindly, I always remembered that," Wilson says. "That was so endearing to me, and it's the way I have always tried to treat people. It was a good lesson. It was like a blessing to meet someone so human and so nice."

The show spans Horne's entire life, combining her music with visual images and interviews taken from the material in Gavin's book. He narrates the production. Some of the songs Wilson will sing include "Stormy Weather," "Why Was I Born?" and "A Lady Must Live."

Wilson became part of the "Stormy Weather" project when she met Gavin a few years ago in Florida. She was there performing; he was doing a book signing, she says. Wilson went to the book signing and talked to Gavin about her friendship with Horne.

"He asked me if I would like to be in the show. That's how it came to be, just a coincidence," Wilson says.

Show times for "Stormy Weather" are 8:30 p.m. Friday and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available through the box office, 749-2000. Prices range from $45 to $69.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.