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Lena Horne

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Actress and singer Lena Horne was one of the most popular performers of her time, known for films such as 'Cabin in the Sky' and 'The Wiz' as well as her trademark song, "Stormy Weather."

Lena Horne was a singer, actress and Civil Rights Activist who first established herself as an accomplished live singer and then transitioned into film work. She signed with MGM studios and became known as one of the top African American performers of her time, seen in such films as Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. She was also known for her work with civil rights groups and refused to play roles that stereotyped African American women, a stance that many found controversial. After some time out of the limelight during the '70s, she made a revered, award-winning comeback with her 1981 show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.

  • Cabin in the sky 1943
  • Stormy Weather 1943
  • The Wiz 1978
  • The Duke is Tops 1938
  • Death of a Gunfighter 1969
  • Till the Clouds Roll By 1946
  • Ziegfeld Follies 1945
  • Panama Hattie 1942
  • Meet Me in Las Vegas 1956
  • Broadway Rhythm 1944
  • Thousands Cheer 1943
  • Words and Music 1948
  • Boogie-Woogie Dream 1944
  • Porgy and Bess 1962
  • Two Girls and a Sailor 1944
  • The Harlem Renaissance 2004

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a banker/professional gambler and an actress. Both parents had a mixed heritage of African American, European American and Native American descent. Her parents separated when she was three, and because her mother traveled as part of various theater troupes, Horne lived with her grandparents for a time. Later, she alternately accompanied her mother on the road and stayed with family and friends around the country.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne's career spanned over 70 years, appearing in film, television, and theater. 


“My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
Lena Horne
Lena Horne June 30, 1917 - May 9, 2010 
At age 16,Horne dropped out of school and began performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem. After making her Broadway debut in the fall 1934 production Dance With Your Gods, she joined Noble Sissle & His Orchestra as a singer, using the name Helena Horne. Then, after appearing in the Broadway musical revue Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939, she joined a well-known white swing band, the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. Barnet was one of the first bandleaders to integrate his band, but because of racial prejudice, Horne was unable to stay or socialize at many of the venues in which the orchestra performed, and she soon left the tour. 

In 1941, she returned to New York to work at the Café Society nightclub, popular with both black and white artists and intellectuals. A long run at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel nightclub in 1943 gave Horne’s career a boost. She was featured in Life magazine and became the highest-paid black entertainer at the time. After signing a seven-year contract with MGM Studios, she moved to Hollywood. The NAACP and her father weighed in on the stipulations of the signing, demanding that Horne not be relegated to roles where she would play a domestic worker, the industry standard for African American screen performers at the time. 

Horne was placed in a number of films, such as Swings Cheer (1943) and Broadway Rhythm (1944), where she would only appear in singing scenes as an individual performer, scenes that could be cut for Southern audiences. Nonetheless, she was able to land lead roles in two 1943 movies with an ensemble African American cast, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Horne's rendition of the title song for Weather would become her signature tune, one she would perform countless times over the decades via her live performances. After having been a featured player in the 1969 screen western Death of a Gunfighter, Horne made her final film appearance in the 1978 movie The Wiz. Directed by Horne's then son-in-law, Sidney Lumet, the film was a version of The Wizard of Oz that featured an entirely African American cast, including Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Horne played Glinda the Good Witch, singing the inspiring "Believe in Yourself" at the film's end.

By the end of the 1940s, Horne had sued a variety of restaurants and theaters for discrimination and become an outspoken member of the leftist group Progressive Citizens of America. McCarthyism was sweeping through Hollywood, and Horne soon found herself blacklisted, believed to be due in part to her friendship with actor Paul Robeson, who was also blacklisted. She still performed primarily in posh nightclubs around the country as well as Europe and was also able to make some TV appearances. The ban had eased by the mid-1950s, and Horne returned to the screen in the 1956 comedy Meet Me in Las Vegas, though she would not act in another film for more than a decade.

Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights Movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with Paul Robeson. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform "for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of black servicemen", according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because the U.S. Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she staged her show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. Seeing the black soldiers had been forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where the black troops were seated and performed with the Germans behind her. After quitting the USO in 1945 because of the organization's policy of segregating audiences, Horne financed tours of military camps herself.

She was at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the weekend before Evers was assassinated. She also met President John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated. She was at the March on Washington and spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. Tom Lehrer mentions her in his song "National Brotherhood Week" in the line "Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark are dancing cheek to cheek" referring (wryly) to her and to Sheriff Jim Clark, of Selma, Alabama, who was responsible for a violent attack on civil rights marchers in 1965. In 1983, the NAACP awarded her the Spingarn Medal.

courtesy: history.com, wikipedia and IMDB

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All opinions expressed in this article are all my own, and do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the leadership of #ADOS or American Descendants of Slavery.

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