Legendary singer and actress Lena Horne died on Sunday evening, May 9, 2010 at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan where she also lived. She was 92 years old. Lena Horne will be remembered for many reasons, one being her ground breaking influence in getting more black actresses bigger and better jobs in Hollywood. A brief look at Lena Horne’s childhood and career follows.
Lena Horne: a difficult childhood
Lena Horne was born in 1917 in New York, and was abandoned by a gambling father when she was a toddler. She was also left alone a lot by her mother who toured with a black acting troupe.
Horne was raised mainly by her grandparents in Brooklyn, N.Y. and went to school at an all girl public high school, but dropped out before earning a diploma.
Horne began her career at the early age of 16 as a dancer at the famous Cotton Club, Inc. , the Harlem nightclub where leading black entertainers performed for white audiences.
Lena Horne: A brief biography
Prior to 1943, Horne was a nightclub performer. It was during a nightclub engagement in Hollywood that talent scouts approached her to work in pictures. Horne became the first black performer to sign a long term contract with a major Hollywood studio, Metro-Golden-Mayer.
Horne’s film debut with MGM was in Panama Hattie where she performed the song Stormy Weather, now known as her signature piece. She then appeared in a number of musicals at MGM. Most remembered was Cabin in the Sky, although she was not a leading lady because of her ethnicity.
In 1943, Horne also performed in the Ziegfeld Follies and performed “Love” by Hugh Martin and Hugh Blane.
During the mid 1950’s, Horne was discontent by Hollywood and increasingly focused on her nightclub performances. She only made 2 appearances in MGM films during that decade, which were Duchess ofIdaho and the musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. Horne was blacklisted in the mid 1950’s for her political views.
In the late 50’s and 60’s Horne was a staple on a number of TV variety shows including, The Ed Sullivan show, The Judy Garland show, The Andy Williams show and The Dean Martin Show.
In the 1960’s Horne was one of the celebrities most involved in the civil rights movement, and spoke at a rally with Medgar Evers, just days before he was assassinated.
In the 70’s Horne played herself on shows such as The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Sanford and Son.
In 1980, Horne was supposedly going into retirement. She did a two month round of benefit concerts dubbed as her “farewell” tour. However her intended retirement was short lived, under a year.
In 1981 Horne received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. In 1989 she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Approaching 80 years in the 1990’s, Horne was active in the recording studio and released several albums including We’ll Be Together Again and Being Myself. In 1998 Horne retired and was basically out of the public view.
All of Lena Horne’s awards and recognitions achieved during her 92 years can be read at Wikipedia.
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Lena Horne – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia