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Horne, Lena

Lena Horne

Singer

"She is one of the incomparable performers of our time," Richard Watts, Jr., wrote of Lena Horne in the New York Post in 1957. This assessment continued to hold true decades later: Lena Horne, the beautiful, elegant, and talented singer and actress, has indeed become a legend. Horne encountered adversity throughout her career—first from her family, who disapproved of her choice of occupation, then from white audiences and managers, who were uncomfortable with her assertiveness, and even from other African-American performers, who felt threatened by her refusal to accept stereotypical roles. But her strong sense of identity, justice, and dignity forced her to struggle against these obstacles, and allowed her to triumph.

The great-granddaughter of a freed slave, Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to Edwin "Teddy" Horne and his wife, Edna. Horne's parents separated by the time she was three years old, and she lived for several years with her paternal grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne. Her early life was nomadic. Horne's mother, who was a fairly unsuccessful stage performer, took the young Lena on the road with her, and they lived in various parts of the South before returning to Horne's grandparents' home in Brooklyn in 1931. After her grandparents died, Horne was sent to live with her mother's friend Laura Rollock. Shortly thereafter, her mother married Miguel "Mike" Rodriguez, and Horne moved in with them.

Horne had early ambitions to be a performer, against the wishes of her family, who believed she should aspire to greater heights. The Hornes were an established middle class family, with several members holding college degrees and distinguished positions in organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League. Nevertheless, Horne persisted in her dreams of stardom, and in 1933 she began her first professional engagement, at the Cotton Club, the famed Harlem nightclub. She sang in the chorus, and though she was only 16 years old, she held her own amongst the older and more experienced cast members. She soon left high school to devote herself to her stage career.

Performed in New York and Hollywood

In 1934 Horne landed a small role in an all-black Broadway show called Dance With Your Gods. The next year she left the Cotton Club and began performing as a featured singer with Noble Sissle's Society Orchestra under the name "Helena Horne," which Sissle thought more glamorous than "Lena." In 1937 Horne quit her tour with the Sissle Orchestra to marry Louis Jones, a friend of her father's, and live with him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During this short and troubled marriage, Horne went to Hollywood to appear in an all-black film called The Duke Is Tops. In 1939 she won a role in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1939, which was performed at the Hudson Theatre in New York City; but it ran for only eight nights. By this time, she had had two children, Gail and Edwin ("Teddy").

Horne left Jones in 1940, took a job as a singer with Charlie Barnet's band, and went out on the road. She was the only black member of the Barnet ensemble, and the kind of racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel managers, and others was so unsettling that she decided to quit the band. In 1941 she began performing at the Cafe Society Downtown, a club in New York City that catered to intellectuals and social activists both black and white.

At the Cafe Society, Horne learned about black history, politics, and culture, and developed a new appreciation for her heritage. She rekindled her acquaintance with singer Paul Robeson, whom she had known when she was a child. In her autobiography In Person: Lena Horne, she explained that through her conversations with Robeson she realized, "We [African Americans] were going forward, and that knowledge gave me a strength and a sense of unity. Yes, we were going forward, and it was up to me to learn more about us and to join actively in our struggle." From this point on, Horne became a significant voice in the struggle for equality and justice for blacks in America. Interestingly, Horne carried her sense of pride and independence into her music; although she enjoyed the blues, she refused to sing them. She told Nancy Matsumoto in People, "I am an emancipated woman who refuses to sing about some man walking out."

Horne moved to California in the summer of 1941 after getting an offer to appear at an as-yet-unbuilt club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood called the Trocadero. Although plans for the Trocadero fell through, another smaller club, the Little Troc, opened in February of 1942, and Horne was featured there. Also in 1942, Horne signed a seven-year contract with MGM—the first black woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. "They didn't quite know what to do with me," she told Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight, regarding the studio's dilemma. She wasn't dark-skinned enough to star with many of the black actors of the day, and her roles in white films were limited, since Hollywood wasn't ready to depict interracial relationships on screen. Her first film under contract was Panama Hattie, a 1942 version of Cole Porter's Broadway musical, in which she had a small singing role and appeared in only one scene.

For the Record . . .

Born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Edwin ("Teddy"; a banker) and Edna (an actress) Horne; married Louis Jones, 1937 (divorced, 1944); married Leonard George ("Lennie") Hayton, 1947 (died, 1971); children: (first marriage) Gail, Edwin ("Teddy"; deceased).

Began singing at Cotton Club, New York City, 1933; appeared in Broadway musical Dance With Your Gods, 1934; featured singer with Noble Sissle's Society Or chestra, 1935-37, and Charlie Barnet Orchestra, 1940-41; appeared in musical Blackbirds of 1939, 1939, and at Cafe Society Downtown, 1941; featured performer at Little Troc nightclub, Hollywood, 1942; appeared in films, including The Duke Is Tops, 1938, Panama Hat tie, 1942, Stormy Weather, 1943, Cabin in the Sky, 1943, Death of a Gunfighter, 1969, The Wiz, 1978, and That's Entertainment III, 1993; signed recording contract with RCA Victor, 1956; featured in Broadway musical Jamaica, 1957-59; appeared on television pro grams, 1950s-1980s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Cosby Show; starred on Broadway in Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, 1981-82; appeared at gala, "Lena: The Legacy," 1999.

Awards: Tony Award, 1981; Drama Desk Award, 1981; Actors Equity Paul Robeson Award, 1982; Dance The ater of Harlem Emergence Award, 1982; Handel Me dallion, 1982; Grammy Award for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music; NAACP Spingarn Medal, 1983; Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to the arts, 1984; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 1989; Essence Award, 1993; Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award.

Addresses: Office—5950 Canoga Ave., ...200, Wood land Hills, CA 91367.

Dignified and Elegant Performances

Several of Horne's roles in subsequent films were similar. James Haskins noted in his book Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne, "The image of Lena, always elegantly gowned, singing while draped around a marble column in a lavishly produced musical sequence, would become virtually standardized. Only her ability to appear enigmatic prevented her from being completely exploited in these stock sequences; she managed to carry them off with a dignity that, coupled with her aloof and detached delivery, enhanced both her mystery and her audience appeal." The sad footnote to this is that Horne's scenes were purposely constructed so that they could be easily excised when the films were shown to white audiences in the South.

Horne appeared in the all-black musicals Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, both released in 1943, but she refused to take any role that she felt would be demeaning to her as a woman of color. This led to an uproar among the black Hollywood "extras" who represented what Horne's daughter, in her book The Hornes: An American Family, called"a kind of stock company of stereotypes." These actors felt threatened by Horne and accused her of being a tool of the NAACP. In her defense, Horne wrote in her 1965 autobiography Lena: "I was only trying to see if I could avoid in my career some of the traps they had been forced into."

During World War II Horne went on USO tours along the West Coast and throughout the South. She appeared on the Armed Forces Radio Service programs Jubilee, G.I. Journal, and Command Performances, and helped First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt press for anti-lynching legislation. After the war Horne worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination because Japan had been an enemy of the United States.

In the fall of 1947 Horne went to Europe with Lennie Hayton, a white musician she had met in Hollywood. They were married in Paris, because interracial marriages were against the law in California. Back in Hollywood, she appeared in more film musicals, among them Till the Clouds Roll By in 1946, Words and Music in 1948, and The Duchess of Idaho in 1950.

Blacklisted

In the early 1950s Horne, along with many of her colleagues, was a victim of the anti-Communist "witch hunts" that successfully blacklisted performers who were thought to have ties to Communist organizations or activities. The blacklisting hurt Horne's career and kept her from appearing on radio and television. By the mid-1950s, though, Horne was cleared of these charges. In 1956 she signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. Some of her albums included Stormy Weather, Lena Horne at the Coconut Grove, and Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria. The latter became the top-selling recording by a female artist in RCA's history. In 1957 Horne was featured in Jamaica, a Broadway musical with an all-black cast. The show had a successful run and did not close until the spring of 1959.

Horne was actively involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, participating in the March on Washington in 1963, performing at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and working on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. This period also saw her appear on various television programs, including several performances on the popular Ed Sullivan and Perry Como variety shows, and in her own special, Lena in Concert, which aired in 1969. Also in 1969 she appeared in a nonsinging role in the western Death of a Gunfighter.

The 1970s began tragically for Horne: her son, Teddy, died of kidney disease in 1970, her father died the same year, and Lennie Hayton died of a heart attack in 1971. But these years also offered a variety of opportunities for Horne to perform. She appeared on Broadway with Tony Bennett in 1974 in a show called Tony and Lena, and was featured in several television commercials. In 1978 she played the role of Glinda the Good Witch in the film version of The Wiz, the all-black musical based on The Wizard of Oz.

Horne launched a "farewell tour" in the summer of 1980, but her greatest success of the decade was still ahead of her—her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which opened in May of 1981 at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre. The production ran for two years and was a tremendous success, so much so that Horne was given a special Tony Award for her performance. She also received a Drama Desk Award and a special citation from the New York Drama Critics' Circle. The soundtrack to the show, produced by Quincy Jones, won two Grammy Awards. In Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography, Haskins reported that the show was "not only the longest-running one-woman show in the history of Broadway but the standard against which every future one-person show would be measured." Horne herself, in an article she wrote for Ebony magazine in 1990, described the show as "the most rewarding event in my entire career."

In the 1990s Horne cut back on performing, but she continued to be a favorite of audiences throughout the world. In 1998 she received an honorary Doctor Of Humane Letters degree from Yale University. In 1999 she was honored at al all-star gala at New York's Avery Fisher Hall, titled "Lena: The Legacy." The affair was held to support the Lena Horne Youth Leadership Scholarship Awards Program. The program awarded $10,000 college scholarships to several inner-city youths who had worked to improve their communities.

In 2003 the ABC television network planned to begin filming for a movie about Horne's life, starring singer Janet Jackson as Horne. In Daily Variety, Sony executive vice president Helen Verno told Josef Adalian, "This is an opportunity for a new generation to be exposed not only to Ms. Horne's music, but to understand her struggle to overcome the racial prejudices she faced as a black performer in America." However, when Jackson, either accidentally or on purpose, bared her breast during the coverage of the Super Bowl in early 2004, Horne was offended and demanded that ABC remove Jackson from the role. ABC refused, but Jackson withdrew rather than have a confrontation with Horne over the role. The project was shelved, to the disappointment of executive producer Craig Zahan, who told Gail Shister in the Philadelphia Enquirer that it "could have been a blockbuster."

Although Horne has enjoyed lasting success as a performer, some observers consider her most important role that of catalyst in the elevation of the status of African Americans in the performing arts. Despite the strides she has made, Horne has often lamented the sluggishness of progress in Hollywood; if given the chance to do it all again, she told music writer Leonard Feather in Modern Maturity, "I'd be a schoolteacher."

Selected discography

(With the Lennie Layton Orchestra) Lena Goes Latin (recorded in 1963), DRG, 1987.

(With Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joe Williams) The Men in My Life, Three Cherries, 1989.

Stormy Weather: The Legendary Lena, 1941-1958, Bluebird, 1990.

Lena Horne, Royal Collection, 1992.

At Long Last Lena, RCA, 1992.

Greatest Hits, CSI, 1992.

Best of Lena Horne, Curb, 1993.

Stormy Weather, RCA Victor.

Lena Horne at the Coconut Grove, RCA Victor.

Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, RCA Victor.

Sources

Books

Buckley, Gail Lumet, The Hornes: An American Family, Knopf, 1986.

Haskins, James, and Kathleen Benson, Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne, Stein & Day, 1984.

Horne, Lena, as told to Helen Arstein and Carlton Moss, In Person: Lena Horne, Greenberg, 1950.

Horne, Lena, and Richard Schickel, Lena, Doubleday, 1965.

Wormley, Stanton L. and Lewis H. Fenderson, editors, Many Shades of Black, William & Co., 1969.

Periodicals

Daily Variety, September 3, 2003, p. 1.

Ebony, May 1980; November 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, July 9, 1993.

Jet, November 22, 1999, p. 34.

Modern Maturity, February/March 1993.

New York Post, November 1, 1957.

New York Times, May 4, 1981.

People, July 6, 1998, p. 120.

Philadelphia Enquirer, February 27, 2004, p. NA.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Leonard Maltin broadcast on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, March 22, 1993.

—Joyce Harrison andKelly Winters

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Horne, Lena 1917–

Lena Horne 1917

Singer, actress, activist

Performed in New York and Hollywood

Landed Film Contract with MGM

The Struggle for Equality Continued

Blacklisted in the 1950s

One-Woman Broadway Show Was a Sensation

Selected discography

Sources

She is one of the incomparable performers of our time, Richard Watts, Jr., wrote of Lena Horne in the New York Post in 1957. This assessment continued to hold true decades later: Lena Horne, the beautiful, elegant, and talented singer and actress has become a legend. Horne encountered adversity throughout her career: first from her family, who disapproved of her choice of occupation; then from white audiences and managers, who were uncomfortable with her assertiveness; and even from other African American performers, who felt threatened by her refusal to accept stereotypical roles. But her strong sense of her own identity, of justice, and of dignity forced her to struggle against this adversityand allowed her to triumph.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30,1917, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to Edwin Teddy; Horne and his wife, Edna. Hornes parents separated by the time she was three years old, and she lived for several years with her paternal grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne. Her early life was nomadic: Hornes mother, who was a fairly unsuccessful stage performer, took the young Lena on the road with her, and they lived in various parts of the South before returning to Hornes grandparents horne in Brooklyn in 1931. After her grandparents died, she was sent to live with her mothers friend Laura Rollock. Shortly thereafter, her mother married Miguel Mike Rodriguez, and Horne moved in with them.

Horne had early ambitions to be a performeragainst the wishes of her family, who believed that she should aspire to greater heights. The Hornes were an established middle-class family, with several members holding college degrees and distinguished positions in organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League. Nevertheless, Horne persisted, and in 1933 she began her first professional engagementat the Cotton Club, the famed Harlem nightclub. She sang in the chorus, and though only sixteen years old, held her own among the older and more experienced cast members. She soon left high school to devote herself to her stage career.

Performed in New York and Hollywood

In 1934 Horne had a small role in an all-black Broadway show called Dance with Your Gods. The next year, she left the Cotton Club and began performing as the featured singer with Noble Sissles Society Orchestra under the

At a Glance

Born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Edwin (Teddy a numbers banker) and Edna (an actress) Horne; married Louis Jones, 1937 (divorced 1944); married Leonard George (Lennie) Hayton, 1947 (died 1971); children: (first marriage) Gail, Edwin (Teddy; deceased).

Began singing at Cotton Club in New York City, 1933; appeared in Broadway musical Dance with Your Gods , 1934; featured singer with Noble Sissles Society Orchestra, 1935-37, and Charlie Barnet Orchestra, 1940-41; appeared in musical Blackbirds of 1939, 1939, and at Café Society Downtown, 1941; featured performer at Little Troc nightclub, Hollywood, 1942; appeared in motion pictures, including The Duke Is Tops, 1938, Panama Hattie, 1942, Stormy Weather, 1943, Cabin in the Sky, 1943, Death of a Gunfighter, 1969, The Wiz, 1978, and Thats Entertainment III, 1993; signed record contract with RCA Victor, 1956; featured in Broadway musical Jamaica, 1957-59; appeared on television, 1950s-80s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Cosby Show; starred in Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music on Broadway, 1981-82.

Selected awards: Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award, 1981; Drama Desk Award, 1981; Actors Equity Paul Robeson Award, 1982; Dance Theater of Harlem Emergence Award, 1982; Handel Medallion, 1982; NAACP Spingarn Medal, 1983; Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to the arts, 1984; Essence Award, 1993; Ebonys Lifetime Achievement Award; two Grammy awards.

Member: NAACP, Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP), Delta Sigma Theta (honorary member).

Addresses: Office 5950 Canoga Ave., #200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.

name Helena Horne, which Sissle thought more glamorous than Lena. In 1937 Horne quit her tour with the Sissle Orchestra to marry Louis Jones, a friend of her father, and live with him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During this short and troubled marriage, Horne went to Hollywood to appear in an all-black film called The Duke Is Tops. In 1939 she had a role in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1939 at the Hudson Theatre in New York City; it ran for only eight nights. Before her marriage to Jones ended in divorce, she had two children, Gail and Edwin (Teddy).

Horne left Jones in 1940, taking a job as a singer with Charlie Barnets band and going out on tour with him. Horne was the only black member of the ensemble, and the kind of racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel managers, and others was so unsettling that she decided to quit the band. In 1941, she began performing at the Café Society Downtown, a club in New York City that catered to intellectuals and social activists, both black and white.

At the Café Society, Horne learned about black history, politics, and culture, and developed a new appreciation for her heritage. She rekindled her acquaintance with Paul Robeson, whom she had known when she was a child. In her autobiography entitled In Person: Lena Horne, she said that through her conversations with Robeson, she realized that we [African Americans] were going forward, and that knowledge gave me a strength and a sense of unity. Yes, we were going forward, and it was up to me to learn more about us and to join actively in our struggle. From this point on, Horne became a significant voice in the struggle for equality and justice for blacks in America.

Landed Film Contract with MGM

In the summer of 1941, Horne moved to California after getting an offer to appear at an as-yet-unbuilt club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood called the Trocadero. Although the plans for the Trocadero fell through, another, smaller club, the Little Troc, opened in February of 1942, and Horne was featured there. In the same year, she signed a seven-year contract with MGMthe first black woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. They didnt quite know what to do with me, she told Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight regarding the studios resulting dilemma: she wasnt sufficiently dark skinned to star with many of the African American actors of the day, and her roles in white films were limited, since Hollywood wasnt ready to depict interracial relationships on screen. Her first film under contract was Panama Hattie, a 1942 motion picture version of Cole Porters Broadway musical, in which she had a small singing role in one scene.

Several of Hornes roles in subsequent films were similar. James Haskins, in his book Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne, wrote: The image of Lena, always elegantly gowned, singing while draped around a marble column in a lavishly produced musical sequence, would become virtually standardized. Only her ability to appear enigmatic prevented her from being completely exploited in these stock sequences; she managed to carry them off with a dignity that, coupled with her aloof and detached delivery, enhanced both her mystery and her audience appeal. The sad footnote to this is that Hornes scenes were purposely constructed so that they could be cut out with ease when the films were shown to white audiences in the South.

The Struggle for Equality Continued

Horne appeared in the all-black film musicals Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, both released in 1943, but she refused to take on any roles that were demeaning to her as a woman of color. This led to an uproar among the black Hollywood extras, who represented what Hornes daughter, in her book The Hornes: An American Family, called a kind of stock company of stereotypes. These actors felt threatened and accused Horne of being a tool of the NAACP. In her own defense, Horne wrote in her 1965 autobiography Lena: I was only trying to see if I could avoid in my career some of the traps they had been forced into.

During World War II, Horne went on USO tours along the West Coast and in the South. She appeared on the Armed Forces Radio Service on programs such as Jubilee, G.I. Journal, and Command Performances and helped Eleanor Roosevelt press for antilynching legislation. After the war, she worked on behalf of Japanese-Americans who faced discrimination because Japan had been an enemy of the United States.

In the fall of 1947, Horne went to Europe with Lennie Hayton, a white musician she had met in Hollywood. They were married in December in Paris because interracial marriages were against the law in California. Back in Hollywood, she appeared in more film musicals, among them, Till the Clouds Roll By in 1946, Words and Music in 1948, and The Duchess of Idaho in 1950.

Blacklisted in the 1950s

In the early 1950s, Horne, along with many of her colleagues, was a victim of the anti-Communist witch hunts that successfully blacklisted performers who were thought to have ties to Communist organizations or activities. The blacklisting hurt Hornes career and kept her from appearing on radio and television. By the mid-1950s, though, Horne was cleared of these charges. In 1956, she signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. Her albums included Stormy Weather, Lena Horne at the Coconut Grove, and Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria. The latter became the top-selling recording by a female artist in RCAs history. In 1957 Horne was featured in Jamaica, a Broadway musical with an all-black cast. The show had a successful run, closing in the spring of 1959.

In the 1960s, Horne was involved in the American civil rights movement, participating in the March on Washington in 1963, performing at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and working on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. During the same period she appeared on various television programs, including several performances on the popular Ed Sullivan and Perry Como variety shows, and her own special, Lena in Concert, in 1969. In the same year she appeared in a nonsinging role in the western Death of a Gunfighter.

The 1970s began tragically for Horne: her son, Teddy, died of kidney disease in 1970, her father died in the same year, and Lennie Hayton died of a heart attack in 1971. However, the decade offered a variety of opportunities for Horne to perform. She appeared on Broadway with Tony Bennett in 1974 in a show called Tony and Lena and was featured in several television commercials. In 1978, she played the role of Glinda, the Good Witch, in the film version of The Wiz, the all-black musical based on The Wizard of Oz.

One-Woman Broadway Show Was a Sensation

In the summer of 1980, Horne launched a farewell tour, but her greatest success of the decade was her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which opened in May of 1981 at Broadways Nederlander Theatre. The show ran for two years and was a tremendous successso much so that Horne was given a special Tony Award for her performance. She also received a Drama Desk Award and a special citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle. The soundtrack to the show, produced by Quincy Jones, won two Grammy awards. In Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography, Haskins noted that the show was not only the longest-running one-woman show in the history of Broadway but the standard against which every future one-person show would be measured. Horne herself, in an article she wrote for Ebony magazine in 1990, described the show as the most rewarding event in my entire career.

In the 1990s, Horne cut back on performing, but she continued to be a favorite of audiences throughout the world. Her pride in her heritage and her refusal to compromise herself, combined with an innate ability to project elegance, grace, and dignity, have made her a legendary figure. Some observers consider her most important role to be that of a catalyst in the elevation of the status of African Americans in the performing arts. But Horne laments the sluggishness of progress in Hollywood; if given the chance to do it all again, she told Leonard Feather of Modern Maturity, Id be a schoolteacher.

Selected discography

(With the Lennie Layton Orchestra) Lena Goes Latin, recorded in 1963, DRG, 1987.

(With Sammy Davis and Joe Williams) The Men in My Life, Three Cherries, 1989.

Stormy Weather: The Legendary Lena, 1941-1958, Bluebird, 1990.

Lena Horne, Royal Collection, 1992.

At Long Last Lena, RCA, 1992.

Greatest Hits, CSI, 1992.

The Best of Lena Horne, Curb, 1993.

Stormy Weather, RCA Victor.

Lena Horne at the Coconut Grove, RCA Victor.

Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, RCA Victor.

Sources

Books

Buckley, Gail Lumet, The Hornes: An American Family, Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Haskins, James, and Kathleen Benson, Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne, Stein & Day, 1984.

Horne, Lena, as told to Helen Arstein and Carlton Moss, In Person: Lena Horne, Greenberg, 1950.

Horne, Lena, and Richard Schickel, Lena, Doubleday, 1965.

Wormley, Stanton L., and Lewis H. Fenderson, editors, Many Shades of Black, William & Co., 1969.

Periodicals

Ebony, May 1980; November 1990.

Modern Maturity, February/March 1993, p. 28.

New York Post, November 1, 1957.

New York Times, May 4, 1981.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Leonard Maltins interview with Lena Horne, broadcast on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, March 22, 1993.

Joyce Harrison

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"Horne, Lena 1917–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Horne, Lena

Lena Horne

Singer, actress, activist

Performed in New York and Hollywood

Draped Around a Marble Column

Blacklisted

Selected discography

Sources

She is one of the incomparable performers of our time, Richard Watts, Jr., wrote of Lena Home in the New York Post in 1957. This assessment continued to hold true decades later: Lena Home, the beautiful, elegant, and talented singer and actress has indeed become a legend. Home encountered adversity throughout her careerfirst from her family, who disapproved of her choice of occupation, then from white audiences and managers, who were uncomfortable with her assertiveness, and even from other African-American performers, who felt threatened by her refusal to accept stereotypical roles. But her strong senses of identity, justice, and dignity forced her to struggle against these obstaclesand allowed her to triumph.

Lena Mary Calhoun Home was born on June 30, 1917, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to Edwin Teddy Home and his wife, Edna. Homes parents separated by the time she was three years old, and she lived for several years with her paternal grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Home. Her early life was nomadic. Homes mother, who was a fairly unsuccessful stage performer, took the young Lena on the road with her, and they lived in various parts of the South before returning to Homes grandparents home in Brooklyn in 1931. After her grandparents died, Home was sent to live with her mothers friend Laura Rollock. Shortly thereafter, her mother married Miguel Mike Rodriguez, and Home moved in with them.

Home had early ambitions to be a performeragainst the wishes of her family, who believed she should aspire to greater heights. The Homes were an established middle-class family, with several members holding college degrees and distinguished positions in organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League. Nevertheless, Home persisted in her dreams of stardom and in 1933, she began her first professional engagement, at the Cotton Club, the famed Harlem nightclub. She sang in the chorus and though only 16 years old held her own among the older and more experienced cast members. She soon left high school to devote herself to her stage career.

Performed in New York and Hollywood

In 1934 Home landed a small role in an all-black Broadway show called Dance With Your Gods. The next year, she left the Cotton Club and began performing as a featured singer with Noble Sissles Society

For the Record

Born Lena Mary Calhoun Home, June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, NY;daughter of Edwin (Teddy; a banker) and Edna (an actress) Home; married Louis Jones, 1937 (divorced, 1944); married Leonard George (Lennie) Hayton, 1947 (died, 1971); children: (first marriage) Gail, Edwin (Teddy; deceased).

Began singing at Cotton Club, New York City, 1933; appeared in Broadway musical Dance With Your Gods, 1934; featured singer with Noble Sissles Society Orchestra, 1935-37, and Charlie Bannet Orchestra, 1940-41; appeared in musical Blackbirds of 1939 1939, and at Café Society Downtown, 1941; featured performer at Little Troc nightclub, Hollywood, 1942; appeared in films, including The Duke Is Tops, 1938, Panama Hattie, 1942, Stormy Weather, 1943, Cabin in the Sky, 1943, Death of a Gunfighter, 1969, The Wiz, 1978, and Thats Entertainment III, 1993; signed recording contract with RCA Victor, 1956; featured in Broadway musical Jamaica, 1957-59; appeared on television programs, 1950s-80s, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Perry Corno Show, and The Cosby Show; starred on Broadway in Lena Home: The Lady and Her Music, 1981-82.

Selected awards: Tony Award, 1981; Drama Desk Award, 1981; Actors Equity Paul Robeson Award, 1982; Dance Theater of Harlem Emergence Award, 1982; Handel Medallion, 1982; NAACP Spingarn Medal, 1983; Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime contribution to the arts, 1984; Essence Award, 1993; Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award; two Grammy awards.

Member: NAACP; Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP); Delta Sigma Theta (honorary member).

Addresses: Office 5950 Canoga Ave., #200, Woodland Hills, CA 91367.

Orchestra under the name Helena Home, which Sissle thought more glamorous than Lena. In 1937 Home quit her tour with the Sissle Orchestra to marry Louis Jones, a friend of her father, and live with him in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During this short and troubled marriage, Home went to Hollywood to appear in an all-black film called The Duke Is Tops. In 1939 she won a role in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1939, which would be performed at the Hudson Theatre in New York City; but it ran for only eight nights. By this time, she had had two children, Gail and Edwin (Teddy).

Home left Jones in 1940, took a job as a singer with Charlie Barnets band, and went out on the road. She was the only black member of the Barnet ensemble, and the kind of racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel managers, and others was so unsettling that she decided to quit the band. In 1941, she began performing at the Café Society Downtown, a club in New York City that catered to intellectuals and social activists, both black and white.

At the Café Society, Home learned about black history, politics, and culture and developed a new appreciation for her heritage. She rekindled her acquaintance with singer Paul Robeson, whom she had known when she was a child. In her autobiography In Person: Lena Home, she explained that through her conversations with Robeson, she realized, We [African Americans] were going forward, and that knowledge gave me a strength and a sense of unity. Yes, we were going forward, and it was up to me to learn more about us and to join actively in our struggle. From this point on, Home became a significant voice in the struggle for equality and justice for blacks in America.

Home moved to California in the summer of 1941 after getting an offer to appear at an as-yet-unbuilt club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood called the Trocadero. Although plans for the Trocadero fell through, another, smaller club, the Little Troc, opened in February of 1942, and Home was featured there. Also in 1942, Home signed a seven-year contract with MGMthe first black woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. They didnt quite know what to do with me, she told Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight regarding the studios resulting dilemma: she wasnt dark-skinned enough to star with many of the black actors of the day, and her roles in white films were limited since Hollywood wasnt ready to depict interracial relationships on screen. Her first film under contract was Panama Hattie, a 1942 version of Cole Porters Broadway musical in which she had a small singing role and appeared in only one scene.

Draped Around a Marble Column

Several of Homes roles in subsequent films were similar. James Haskins, in his book Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Home, noted, The image of Lena, always elegantly gowned, singing while draped around a marble column in a lavishly produced musical sequence, would become virtually standardized. Only her ability to appear enigmatic prevented her from being completely exploited in these stock sequences; she managed to carry them off with a dignity that, coupled with her aloof and detached delivery, enhanced both her mystery and her audience appeal. The sad footnote to this is that Homes scenes were purposely constructed so that they could be easily excised when the films were shown to white audiences in the South.

Home appeared in the all-black musicals Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, both released in 1943, but she refused to take any role that she felt would be demeaning to her as a woman of color. This led to an uproar among the black Hollywood extras who represented what Homes daughter, in her book The Homes: An American Family, called a kind of stock company of stereotypes. These actors felt threatened by Home and accused her of being a tool of the NAACP. In her defense, Home wrote in her 1965 autobiography Lena: I was only trying to see if I could avoid in my career some of the traps they had been forced into.

During World War II, Home went on USO tours along the West Coast and throughout the South. She appeared on the Armed Forces Radio Service programs Jubilee, G.I. Journal, and Command Performances and helped First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt press for antilynching legislation. After the war Home worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination because Japan had been an enemy of the United States.

In the fall of 1947, Home went to Europe with Lennie Hayton, a white musician she had met in Hollywood. They were married in Decemberin Paris, because interracial marriages were against the law in California. Back in Hollywood, she appeared in more film musicals, among them Till the Clouds Roll By in 1946, Words and Music in 1948, and The Duchess of Idaho in 1950.

Blacklisted

In the early 1950s, Home, along with many of her colleagues, was a victim of the anti-Communist witch hunts that successfully blacklisted performers who were thought to have ties to Communist organizations or activities. The blacklisting hurt Homes career and kept her from appearing on radio and television. By the mid-1950s, though, Home was cleared of these charges. In 1956, in fact, she signed a recording contract with RCA Victor. Some of her albums included Stormy Weather, Lena Home at the Coconut Grove, and Lena Home at the Waldorf-Astoria. The latter became the top-selling recording by a female artist in RCAs history. In 1957 Home was featured in Jamaica, a Broadway musical with an all-black cast. The show had a successful run and did not close until the spring of 1959.

Home was actively involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, participating in the March on Washington in 1963, performing at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and working on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. This period also saw her appear on various television programs, including several performances on the popular Ed Sullivan and Perry Como variety shows and in her own special, Lena in Concert, which aired in 1969. Also in 1969 she appeared in a nonsinging role in the western Death of a Gunfighter.

The 1970s began tragically for Home: her son, Teddy, died of kidney disease in 1970, her father died the same year, and Lennie Hayton died of a heart attack in 1971. Still, these years also offered a variety of opportunities for Home to perform. She appeared on Broadway with Tony Bennett in 1974 in a show called Tony and Lena and was featured in several television commercials. In 1978, she played the role of Glinda the Good Witch in the film version of The Wiz, the all-black musical based on The Wizard of Oz.

Home launched a farewell tour in the summer of 1980, but her greatest success of the decade was still ahead of herher one-woman show, Lena Home: The Lady and Her Music, which opened in May of 1981 at Broadways Nederlander Theatre. The production ran for two years and was a tremendous successso much so that Home was given a special Tony Award for her performance. She also received a Drama Desk Award and a special citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle. The soundtrack to the show, produced by Quincy Jones, won two Grammy awards. In Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography, Haskins reported that the show was not only the longest-running one-woman show in the history of Broadway but the standard against which every future one-person show would be measured. Home herself, in an article she wrote for Ebony magazine in 1990, described the show as the most rewarding event in my entire career.

In the 1990s, Home cut back on performing, but she continued to be a favorite of audiences throughout the world. Still, some observers consider her most important role that of catalyst in the elevation of the status of African Americans in the performing arts. Despite the strides shes made, Home has often lamented the sluggishness of progress in Hollywood; if given the chance to do it all again, she told music writer Leonard Feather in Modern Maturity, Id be a schoolteacher.

Selected discography

(With the Lennie Layton Orchestra) Lena Goes Latin (recorded in 1963), DRG, 1987.

(With Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joe Williams) The Men in My Life, Three Cherries, 1989.

Stormy Weather: The Legendary Lena, 1941-1958, Bluebird, 1990.

Lena Home, Royal Collection, 1992.

At Long Last Lena, RCA, 1992.

Greatest Hits, CSI, 1992.

Best of Lena Home, Curb, 1993.

Stormy Weather, RCA Victor.

Lena Home at the Coconut Grove, RCA Victor.

Lena Home at the Waldorf-Astoria, RCA Victor.

Sources

Books

Buckley, Gail Lumet, The Homes: An American Family, Knopf, 1986.

Haskins, James, and Kathleen Benson, Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Home, Stein & Day, 1984.

Home, Lena, as told to Helen Arstein and Carlton Moss, In Person: Lena Home, Greenberg, 1950.

Home, Lena, and Richard Schickel, Lena, Doubleday, 1965.

Many Shades of Black, edited by Stanton L. Wormley and Lewis H. Fenderson, William & Co., 1969.

Periodicals

Ebony, May 1980; November 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, July 9, 1993.

Modern Maturity, February/March 1993.

New York Post, November 1, 1957.

New York Times, May 4, 1981.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Leonard Maltin broadcast on Entertainment Tonight, ABC-TV, March 22, 1993.

Joyce Harrison

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Lena Horne

Lena Horne

Lena Horne (born 1917) was one of the most popular Black entertainers of the 20th century. A woman of great beauty and commanding stage presence, she performed in nightclubs, concert halls, movies, and on radio and television.

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917. Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, a numbers game banker, left the household when Lena was three. Her mother, Edna, was an actress with a black theater troupe and traveled extensively. Horne was raised principally by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne. Even so, her early life was nomadic since her mother often took her on the road with her. They lived in various parts of the south before Horne was returned to her grandparents home in 1931. After they died, Horne lived with a friend of her mother's, Laura Rollock. Shortly thereafter, Edna married Miguel Rodriguez and Horne moved in with them.

From an early age, Horne had ambitions to be a performer—much against the wishes of her family who felt she should have higher aspirations. The Hornes were an established middle class family, with several members holding college degrees and distinguished positions in organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League. Nonetheless, Horne pursued her own course and was hired at age 16 at Harlem's famed Cotton Club to dance in the chorus where she held her own against older and more experienced cast members. In 1934, though she had no previous singing experience, she was assigned a singing duet in the club with Avon Long (of "Porgy and Bess" fame). The success of the number inspired Lena to take voice lessons and also got a small role in an all-black Broadway show "Dance with Your Gods." In 1935 she became the featured singer with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra, which performed at many first-rate hotel ballrooms and nightclubs, including the Cotton Club. She left Sissle in 1936 to perform as a "single" in a variety of New York clubs.

In 1937 Horne married minor politician Louis Jones, by whom she had a daughter and a son (they separated in 1940 and divorced in 1944). She gained some early stage experience in Lew Leslie's revues, "Blackbirds of 1939" and "Blackbirds of 1940, " and crossed the racial barrier later in 1940 when she joined one of the great white swing bands, the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. But in that strained context she suffered the many indignities of racial prejudice, especially from hotels and restaurants catering exclusively to whites. She left Barnet in 1941, and her career received an immediate boost from impresario John Hammond, who got her a long engagement at the prestigious Cafe Society Downtown, a club in New York City that catered to intellectual and social activists, both black and white. It was at the Cafe Society that Horne learned about African American history, politics and culture and developed a new appreciation of her heritage. She rekindled her acquaintance with Paul Robeson, whom she had known as a child. In her autobiography, In Person: Lena Horne she stated that her conversations with Robeson made her realize "that we [African Americans] were going forward and that knowledge gave me a strength and a sense of unity. Yes, we were going forward and it was up to me to learn more about us and to join actively in our struggle." From that point onward, Horne became a significant voice in the struggle for equality and justice for African Americans in America.

In 1943, a long booking at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel brought her coverage in such national magazines as LIFE and, in conjunction with a number of movie appearances, established her as the highest-paid black entertainer in America. She was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM—the first African American woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. "They didn't know what to do with me" she told Leonard Maltin of Entertainment Tonight regarding the studios dilemma, she wasn't dark enough in color to star with many of the African American actors of the day and her roles in white films were limited, since Hollywood wasn't ready to depict interracial relationships on screen.

Given these harsh limitations imposed on blacks in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood movies (they either played menials or performed song and/or dance numbers), Horne's film career is impressive. After singing roles in "Panama Hattie" (1942), "Harlem on Parade" (1942), "I Dood It" (1943), "Swing Fever" (1943), and "As Thousands Cheer" (1943), she was given a starring role as a seductress in an all-black allegory, "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), which also starred her idol, Ethel Waters (with whom she did not get along). There followed another major role in "Stormy Weather" (1943) and then some non-speaking roles in "Broadway Rhythm" (1944), "Two Girls and a Sailor" (1944), and a musical biography of Rodgers and Hart, "Words and Music" (1948). She refused to take on any roles that were demeaning to her as a woman of color. This alienated her from other black performers and caused an uproar among the black Hollywood "extras." Horne's daughter, in her book The Hornes: An American Family called them "a stock company of stereotypes" who felt threatened by Horne's success. They accused her of being a tool of the NAACP. In her own defense Horne herself wrote in her own autobiography Lena, "I was only trying to see if I could avoid in my career some of the traps they had been forced into."

Despite her great fame, Horne continued to experience humiliating racial rebukes, and in the late 1940s she sued a number of restaurants and theaters for race discrimination and also became politically allied with Paul Robeson in the Progressive Citizens of America, a leftist group combating racism. While entertaining troops at Fort Reilly, Kansas during World War II, she saw German POW's seated in the front row and African American soldiers forced to sit behind them. Horne left the stage immediately, went to the local NAACP office and filed a complaint. MGM Studios pulled her off the tour, so she used her own money to travel and entertain the troops. She also assisted Eleanor Roosevelt in her quest for anti-lynching legislation. After the war, Horne worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination.

In 1947, shortly after performing at the London Casino, she married white bandleader Lennie Hayton, a marriage that was kept secret for three years because of racial pressures. Until his death in 1971, Hayton was also her pianist, arranger, conductor, and manager.

In 1950 Horne experienced great success at London's Palladium. However, upon her return to the United States, Horne became one of the many victims of the political blacklist. Because of her leftist sympathies and her racial militancy, she was denied work in radio, television, films, and recordings, though she continued to work the posh hotel and nightclub circuit. By the mid-1950s, the anti-left freeze had thawed somewhat and she made a movie appearance in "Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956) and recorded for the first time in five years. In 1957 she drew record crowds to the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria, and in 1958 and 1959 she starred in a Broadway musical, "Jamaica."

During the 1960's Horne was involved in the American Civil Rights movement. She participated in the March on Washington in 1963, performing at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and working on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. During the same period, she was also very visible on television appearing on popular variety shows and in her own special Lena in Concert in 1969. In 1969 Horne also landed a straight acting role, starring opposite Richard Widmark in the movie "Death of a Gun-fighter."

Lennie Hayton's death in 1971, which followed the deaths of Horne's father and her son, plunged her into a state of depression from which she emerged seemingly more resolute than ever. In 1973 and 1974 she toured England and the United States with Tony Bennett; in 1979, on a bill with composer Marvin Hamlisch at the Westbury (New York) Music Fair, Horne's performance inspired critic John S. Wilson to observe a change in her, "an intensity, sometimes warm and intimate, sometimes ominously commanding in every syllable that she projects." She also, for the first time, shed her customary reserve, even permitting herself some patter between songs, and seemed to let the audience get emotionally closer to her.

In 1981 Horne had her greatest triumph, a Broadway show called "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, " which for 14 months was the talk of show business. It won a special Tony award, and the soundtrack won two Grammy awards. It became the standard against which all one-person shows are measured. In 1982 she took the production on a very successful cross-country tour. Horne wrote of the experience in Ebony magazine (1990) "as the most rewarding event in my entire career."

In the 1990's, Horne cut back on performing telling Time, "I went through this delayed reaction to the deaths … of my father and my son and my husband Lennie Hayton … For about nine years I went underground." She was drawn back from semi-retirement to do a tribute concert for a long-time friend, composer Billy Strayhorn at the JVC Jazz Festival "when I came back to do the concert … and it went over so well, everybody was saying 'You ought to keep singing.' So to shut them up, I did it, " Horne told Jet. At age 76 she released her first album in a decade We'll Be Together Again. In 1997, on the occasion of her 80th birthday, Horne was honored at the JVC Jazz Festival, with a tribute concert and the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vocal Artistry.

Lena Horne was a woman of great beauty and majesty: the eyes sparkled vivaciously and the mouth curled with seething emotion. "She is one of the incomparable performers of our time, " Richard Watts Jr. wrote of Horne in the New York Post in 1957. Her pride in her heritage, her refusal to compromise herself, and her innate elegance, grace and dignity made Horne a legendary figure, whose role as a catalyst in the elevation of the status of African Americans in the performing arts provide an enduring legacy.

Further Reading

An early biography is Helen Greenberg and Carlton Moss's In Person, Lena Horne (1950). A more recent work is Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne (1984) by James Haskins with Kathleen Benson. The best sources, however, are Lena's autobiography, Lena (1965, paperback 1986) co-authored by Richard Schickel, and The Hornes: An American Family (1986) by Lena Horne's daughter Gail Lumet Buckley. □

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Horne, Lena

Lena Horne

Born: June 30, 1917
Brooklyn, New York

African American singer

Lena Horne is known as one of the most popular African American entertainers of the twentieth century. A woman of great beauty and commanding stage presence, she performed in nightclubs, concert halls, movies, and on radio and television.

Lena's early years

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917. Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, who worked in the gambling trade, left the family when Lena was three. Her mother, Edna, was an actress with an African American theater troupe and traveled extensively. Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne. Yet, she still moved a great deal in her early years because her mother often took her with her on the road. They lived in various parts of the South before Horne was returned to her grandparents' home in 1931. After they died, Horne lived with a friend of her mother's, Laura Rollock. Shortly thereafter Edna remarried and Horne moved in with her mother and her mother's new husband. The constant moving resulted in Lena having an education that was often interrupted. She attended various small-town, segregated (separated by race) school's when in the South with her mother. In Brooklyn she attended the Ethical Cultural School, the Girls High School, and a secretarial school.

From an early age Horne had ambitions of becoming a performermuch against the wishes of her family, who felt she should have higher goals. The Hornes were an established middle class family, with several members holding college degrees and distinguished positions in organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League (a group that worked to increase the economic and political power of minorities and to end discrimination based on race). Nonetheless, Horne pursued her own course and at age sixteen was hired to dance in the chorus at Harlem's famed Cotton Club. In 1934 Lena took voice lessons, and she also landed a small role in an all-black Broadway show Dance with Your Gods. In 1935 she became the featured singer with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra, which performed at many first-rate hotel ballrooms and nightclubs. She left Sissle in 1936 to perform as a "single" in a variety of New York City clubs.

Experiences unequal treatment because of race

In 1937 Horne married minor politician Louis Jones, by whom she had a daughter, Gail, and a son, Edwin (they separated in 1940 and divorced in 1944). She gained some early stage experience in Lew Leslie's revues, Blackbirds of 1939 and Blackbirds of 1940, and in 1940 she joined one of the great white swing bands, the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. But as the group's only black member she suffered many humiliations of racial prejudice, especially from hotels and restaurants that catered exclusively to whites.

Horne left Barnet in 1941. Her career received an immediate boost from entertainment manager John Hammond, who got her a long engagement at the famous Cafe Society Downtown, a club in New York City. It was at the Cafe Society that Horne learned about African American history, politics, and culture and developed a new appreciation of her heritage. She rekindled her acquaintance with Paul Robeson (18981976), whom she had known as a child. Horne's conversations with Robeson made her realize that the African American people were going to unify and make their situations in life better. She felt she needed to be a part of that movement. From that point onward, Horne became a significant voice in the struggle for equality and justice for African Americans in the United States.

Film career begins

In 1943 a long booking at the SavoyPlaza Hotel, which brought Horne national coverage and a number of movie appearances, established her as the highest-paid African American entertainer in the United States. She was signed to a seven-year contract with the movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)the first African American woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. She was not dark enough in color to star with many of the African American actors of the day and her roles in white films were limited, since Hollywood was not ready to portray interracial relationships on screen.

Given these harsh limitations imposed on African Americans in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood movies, Horne's film career is impressive. After singing roles in Panama Hattie (1942), Harlem on Parade (1942), I Dood It (1943), Swing Fever (1943), and As Thousands Cheer (1943), she was given a starring role in an allblack story, Cabin in the Sky (1943), which also starred her idol, Ethel Waters (19001977). Another major role followed in Stormy Weather (1943) and then some nonspeaking roles in Broadway Rhythm (1944), Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), and a musical biography of Rodgers and Hart, Words and Music (1948). She refused to take on any roles that were disrespectful to her as a woman of color.

Works for civil rights

Horne, despite her great fame, continued to experience humiliating racial discrimination (wrongful treatment because of race), and in the late 1940s she sued a number of restaurants and theaters for race discrimination and also began working with Paul Robeson in the Progressive Citizens of America, a political group opposing racism. During World War II (193945; a war in which Germany, Italy, and Japan fought against France, Great Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States), she used her own money to travel and entertain the troops. She also assisted Eleanor Roosevelt (18841962) in her mission for antilynching legislation (laws making it illegal to hang a person accused of a crime without a trial). After the war Horne worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination.

In 1947 she married a white bandleader, Lennie Hayton, a marriage that was kept secret for three years because of racial pressures. Until his death in 1971, Hayton was also her pianist, arranger, conductor, and manager.

In the mid-1950s Horne made a movie appearance in Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) and recorded for the first time in five years. In 1957 she drew record crowds to the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria, and in 1958 and 1959 she starred in a Broadway musical, Jamaica.

During the 1960s Horne was involved in the American Civil Rights Movement. She participated in the March on Washington in 1963, performed at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and worked on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. During the same period, she was also very visible on television, appearing on popular variety shows and in her own special, Lena in Concert, in 1969. In 1969 Horne starred in the movie Death of a Gunfighter.

Personal tragedy and continuing success

Lennie Hayton's death in 1971, which followed the deaths of Horne's father and her son, plunged her into a state of depression from which she emerged seemingly more determined than ever. In 1973 and 1974 she toured England and the United States with Tony Bennett (1926), and in 1979 she was billed with composer Marvin Hamlisch at the Westbury (New York) Music Fair.

In 1981 Horne had her greatest triumph, a Broadway show called Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which was the talk of show business for fourteen months. It won a special Tony award, and the soundtrack won two Grammy awards.

In the 1990s Horne cut back on performing. She was drawn back from semiretirement to do a tribute concert for a long-time friend, composer Billy Strayhorn, at the JVC Jazz Festival. At age seventy-six she released her first album in a decade, We'll Be Together Again. In 1997, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday, Horne was honored at the JVC Jazz Festival with a tribute concert and the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vocal Artistry. In 1999 she was honored at the New York City's Avery Fisher Hall with an all-star salute.

Lena Horne is an amazing woman. Her pride in her heritage, her refusal to compromise herself, and her innate elegance, grace, and dignity has made her a legendary figure. Her role as a person who has helped to improve the status of African Americans in the performing arts has provided a permanent legacy.

For More Information

Buckley, Gail Lumet. The Hornes: An American Family. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Haskins, James, and Kathleen Benson. Lena: A Biography of Lena Horne. Chelsea, MI: Scarborough House, 1991.

Palmer, Leslie. Lena Horne: Entertainer. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.

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