Sultry singer and actress Lena Horne died Sunday night at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical center in New York. She was 92-years old. Her son, Kevin Buckley, announced her death. No cause of death has been released.
Lena Horne, born on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York, has been described as having an expressive, sultry voice. She was the first black performer to be signed by a major Hollywood studio and gained international fame as a singer. She performed in several musicals including Thousands Cheer (1943), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and Words and Music (1948).
According to The New York Times, Horne was noticed by their former drama critic Brooke Atkinson in 1939 when she performed in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939. He wrote of Horne, “A radiantly beautiful sepia girl who will be a winner when she has proper direction.”
Frank Nugent, critic and screenwriter, later wrote in Liberty magazine that Lena Horne was “the nations top Negro entertainer.” At the time, Horne was earning $1,000 a week from MGM in addition to $1,500 for each radio appearance and $6,500 for playing nightclubs.
According to IMdB, Lena Horne’s first movie was The Duke Is Tops in 1938.
While she was touring with Charlie Barnet’s all-male swing band (1940-1941) in the South, she endured racial prejudice and was forced to sleep and eat on the bus because neither the hotels nor restaurants would allow her entry. Between sets, she had to wait in a structure in the ladies room in order to avoid contact with white patrons.
World War II Pin-Up Girl:
During World War II, Lena Horne was popular with the servicemen. Horne said, “The whole thing that made me a star was the war,” she added, “…black guys couldn’t put up Betty Grable’s pictures in their footlockers. But they could put up mine.”
It was during WWII that Horne began criticizing the way black soldiers were being treated. As a result, the songstress was dubbed a communist sympathizer and was blacklisted. She didn’t do any new movies or television for the next seven years when her tenure with MGM was up in 1950.
Live Recording at the Waldorf-Astoria:
In 1957, Horne recorded her album, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria which was recorded live at the famous hotel owned by Conrad Hilton. It went on to Top Ten status and was the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor‘s history.
Lena Horne received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 1989 Grammy’s, was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991, and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for motion pictures, the other for her recordings.
Though Lena Horne was way before my time, I had the opportunity to watch her movies with my grandfather on occasion. I remember thinking what a gracious, beautiful star she was and her voice was like that of an angel’s. She broke through color barriers to share with the world her talents as a singer and actress, and even though she started out almost 40 years before I was born, I was always awestruck by her.
R.I.P. Ms. Horne.
Personal Experience – Lena Horne Fan for 30 years
Lena Horne, Sultry Singer and Actress, Dies at 92 – Biography – NYTimes.com
IMdB, The Duke Is Tops (1938)