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Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer.
Horne joined the mike chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small
parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the films Sky"">Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Owing to the Red
Scare and her left-leaning political views, Horne found herself blacklisted
and unable to get work in Hollywood.
Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington
in August 1963, and continued to work as a performer, both in
nightclubs as well as on television, all while releasing well received
record albums. Horne announced her retirement in March 1980, but the
next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her
Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on
Broadway, and earned her numerous awards and accolades, and she would
continue recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s.
Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New
Reported to be descended from the Calhoun"">John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a
mixture of African American, American"">European American, and Native American
descent and each belonged to what Bois"">W. E. B. Du Bois called "Talented Tenth"">The Talented Tenth," the upper stratum of
middle-class, well-educated blacks.
Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne (died April 18, 1970 at age 78),a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade, left the family when she was three and moved to an upper-middle-class
black community in the Hill
District community of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania.[Her mother, Edna Scottron, daughter of inventor Scottron"">Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre
troupe and traveled extensively. The young Horne was mainly raised by
her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.
When Horne was five, she was sent to live in Georgia. For several years, she traveled with her mother
From 1927 to 1929 she lived with her uncle, Frank S. Horne, who was the
dean of students at Fort Valley Junior Industrial Institute in Valley, Georgia"">Fort Valley, Georgia
and who would later become an adviser to Franklin Delano
From Fort Valley, southwest of Georgia"">Macon, Horne briefly moved to Atlanta
with her mother; they returned to New York when Horne was 12 years old.She then attended Girls' High School, an all-girls public high school
in Brooklyn which has since become Boys and Girls High School; she
dropped out without earning a diploma
Her father died at age 78 on April 18, 1970. Her son had died of kidney failure at 30 on September 12, 1970; and, unexpectedly, her
husband, Lennie Hayton, died of a heart attack on April 24, 1971.
n the fall of 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade. A few years
later she joined Noble Sissle's Orchestra, with which she
toured. After she separated from her first husband, Horne toured with
bandleader Charlie Barnet in 1940–41, but disliked the
travel and left the band to work at the Society"">Café Society in New York. She replaced Dinah
Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series The Chamber
Music Society of Lower Basin Street. The show's resident
maestros, Henry Levine and Paul Laval, recorded with Horne in June 1941
for RCA Victor. Horne left the show after only six
months to headline a nightclub revue on the west coast; she was replaced
by Linda Keene.
Horne already had two low-budget movies to her credit: a 1938 musical feature called Tops" class="mw-redirect"">The Duke is Tops (later reissued with
Horne's name above the title as The Bronze Venus); and a 1941
two-reel short subject, Boogie Woogie Dream, featuring pianists Pete
Johnson and Albert Ammons. Horne's songs from Boogie
Woogie Dream were later released individually as soundies.
Horne was primarily a nightclub performer during this period, and it
was during a 1943 club engagement in Hollywood that talent scouts
approached Horne to work in pictures. She chose Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and became the
first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. In 1945 and 1946 she sang with
Eckstine"">Billy Eckstine's Orchestra.
She made her debut with MGM in Panama Hattie (1942) and performed the title song of Stormy Weather
(1943), which she made at Fox"">20th Century Fox, on loan from MGM. She appeared in a number
of MGM musicals, most notably Sky"">Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a
leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her
had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show
films with black performers. As a result, most of Horne's film
appearances were stand-alone sequences that had no bearing on the rest
of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable
exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, although
one number was cut because it was considered too suggestive by the
censors. "Ain't it the Truth" was the song (and scene) cut before the
release of the film Cabin in the Sky. It featured Horne singing
"Ain't it the Truth", while taking a bubble bath (considered too
"risqué" by the film's executives). This scene and song are featured in
the film That's Entertainment! III
(1994) which also featured commentary from Horne on why the scene was
deleted prior to the film's release.
In Ziegfeld Follies (1946) she performed "Love" by Hugh Martin and Ralph
Blane. Horne wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne
in MGM's 1951 version of Show
Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show
Boat was performed in the Clouds Roll By"">Till the Clouds Roll By) but lost the part
to Gardner"">Ava Gardner, a personal friend in real life, due to the Code" class="mw-redirect"">Production Code's ban on interracial
relationships in films. In the documentary That's Entertainment!
III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice
her singing using Horne's recordings, which offended both actresses.
Ultimately, Gardner's voice was (music)"">overdubbed by actress Annette Warren (Smith) for the
theatrical release, though her voice was heard on the soundtrack album.
By the mid-1950s, Horne was disenchanted with Hollywood and increasingly focused on her nightclub career. She only made two major appearances in MGM films
during the decade, 1950's Idaho"">Duchess of Idaho (which was also Powell"">Eleanor Powell's film swan song), and the 1956 musical in Las Vegas"">Meet Me in Las Vegas. She was blacklisted
during the 1950s for her political views.
She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire
Quintana in the 1969 film of a Gunfighter"">Death of a Gunfighter, the Good Witch" class="mw-redirect"">Glinda in The Wiz
(1978), and co-hosting the 1994 MGM retrospective That's
Entertainment! III, in which she was candid about her treatment by
After leaving Hollywood, Horne established herself as one of the premiere nightclub performers of the post-war era. She
headlined at clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe,
including the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, the Grove"">Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New
York. In 1957, a live album entitled, Lena Horne at the
Waldorf-Astoria, became the biggest selling record by a female
artist in the history of the RCA-Victor label. In 1958, Horne was nominated
for a Award"">Tony Award for "Best Actress in a Musical" (for her part in
the " music"">Calypso" musical (musical)"">Jamaica).
From the late 1950s through the 1960s, Horne was a staple of TV variety shows, appearing multiple times on Perry Como's Hall"">Kraft Music Hall, Sullivan Show"">The Ed Sullivan Show, Martin Show"">The Dean Martin Show, and Bell Telephone Hour"">The Bell Telephone Hour. Other programs she
appeared on included Judy Garland Show"">The Judy Garland Show, Hollywood Palace"">The Hollywood Palace, and Andy Williams Show"">The Andy Williams Show. Besides two
television specials for the BBC (later syndicated in the U.S.), Horne starred in her
own U.S. television special in 1969, Monsanto Night Presents Lena
Horne. During this decade, the artist Pete Hawley painted her
portrait for RCA Victor, capturing the mood of her performance style.
In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in the hour long Harry & Lena
for ABC; in 1973, she co-starred with Tony
Bennett in Tony and Lena. Horne and Bennett subsequently
toured the U.S. and U.K. in a show together. A very memorable appearance
was in the 1976 program America Salutes Richard Rodgers, where
she sang a lengthy medley of Rodgers songs with Peggy
Lee and Damone"">Vic Damone. Horne also made several appearances on Wilson Show"">The Flip Wilson Show.
Additionally, Horne played herself on television programs such as The Muppet Show, Sesame
Street, and Son"">Sanford and Son in the 1970s, as well as a 1985 performance
on Cosby Show"">The Cosby Show and a 1993 appearance on A Different World. In the
summer of 1980, Horne, 63 years old and intent on retiring from show
business, embarked on a two month series of benefit concerts sponsored
by Sigma Theta"">Delta Sigma Theta. These concerts were represented as
Horne's farewell tour, yet her retirement lasted less than a year.
On April 13, 1980 Miss Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and host Gene
Kelly were all scheduled to appear at a Gala performance at the
Metropolitan Opera House to salute the N Y City Center's Joffrey Ballet
Company. However, Mr. Pavarotti's plane was diverted over the
Atlantic and was unable to appear. James Nederlander was an invited
Honored Guest and noted that only three people at the sold out
Metropolitan Opera House asked for their money back. He asked to be
introduced to Lena following her performance. In May 1981, The Nederlander Organization, Michael
Frazier, and Fred Walker went on to book Horne for a four week
engagement at the newly named Nederlander Theatre (formerly the
Trafalgar, the Billy Rose, and the National) on West 41st Street in New
York City. The show was an instant success and was extended to a full
year run, garnering Horne a special Tony award, and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording of her show
Lena Horne: The Lady and Her
Music. The 333 performance Broadway run closed on Horne's 65th
birthday, June 30, 1982. Later that same week, the entire show was
performed again and videotaped for television broadcast and home video
release. The tour began a few days later at Tanglewood (Massachusetts)
during the July 4, 1982 weekend. The Lady and Her Music toured 41
cities in the U.S. and Canada through June 17, 1984. It played in
London for a month in August and ended its run in Sweden" class="mw-redirect"">Stockholm, Sweden, September 14, 1984.
In 1981, she received a Special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which also played to acclaim at the Adelphi Theatre in
London in 1984.
Despite the show's considerable success (Horne still holds the record
for the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history), she did
not capitalize on the renewed interest in her career by undertaking many
new musical projects. A proposed 1983 joint recording project between
Horne and Frank Sinatra (to be produced by Quincy
Jones) was ultimately abandoned, and her sole studio recording of
the decade was 1988's My Life"">The Men in My Life, featuring duets with Jr."">Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joe Williams. In 1989, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement
The 1990s found Horne considerably more active in the recording studio - all the more remarkable considering she was approaching her 80th year. Following her 1993 performance at a tribute to the musical
legacy of her good friend Strayhorn"">Billy Strayhorn (Ellington"">Duke Ellington's longtime collaborator), she decided to
record an album composed largely of Strayhorn's and Ellington's songs
the following year, We'll Be Together Again.To coincide with the release of the album, Horne made what would be herfinal concert performances at New York's Supper Club and Carnegie Hall.That same year, Horne also lent her vocals to a recording of "You"">Embraceable You" on Sinatra's Duets II
album. Though the album was largely derided by critics, the
Sinatra-Horne pairing was generally regarded as its highlight. In 1995, a
'live' album capturing her Supper Club performance was released
(subsequently winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album). In
1998, Horne released another studio album, entitled Being
Myself. Thereafter, Horne essentially retired from performing
and largely retreated from public view, though she did return to the
recording studio in 2000 to contribute vocal tracks on Simon
Rattle's Classic Ellington album.
Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement. In 1941,
she sang at Cafe Society and worked
with Robeson"">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 people" class="mw-redirect"">German POWs
were seated in front of African American servicemen",
according to her Kennedy Center biography.
Since the US Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up
putting on a show for a mixed audience of black US soldiers and white
German POWs. She was at an NAACP rally with Medgar
Evers in Mississippi"">Jackson, Mississippi, the weekend before Evers was
assassinated. She also met President Kennedy"">John F. Kennedy at the White
House two days before he was assassinated. She was at the Washington" class="mw-redirect"">March on Washington and spoke and
performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women.
She also worked with Roosevelt"">Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Tom Lehrer mentions her on his song "National brotherhood week" in the
line "Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek" refering
(sarcastically) to her and to Sheriff Jim Clarke, of Alabama"">Selma, Alabama, who was responsible for a violent attack on
civil rights marchers in 1965.
In 2003, ABC announced that Janet Jackson would star as Horne in a television biopic. In the weeks following Jackson's "wardrobe
malfunction" debacle during the XXXVIII"">2004 Super Bowl, however, Variety reported that Horne demanded
Jackson be dropped from the project. "ABC executives resisted Horne's
demand," according to the Press"">Associated Press report, "but Jackson representatives told
the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her
daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part." Oprah
Winfrey stated to Alicia
Keys during a 2005 interview on Oprah Winfrey Show"">The Oprah Winfrey Show that she might
possibly consider producing the biopic herself, casting Keys as Horne.
In January 2005, Blue Note Records, her label for more than a decade,
announced that "the finishing touches have been put on a collection of
rare and unreleased recordings by the legendary Horne made during her
time on Blue Note." Remixed by her longtime producer Rodney Jones, the
recordings featured Horne in remarkably secure voice for a woman of her
years, and include versions of such signature songs as "Something to Live For", "Chelsea
Bridge", and "Stormy Weather". The album, originally
titled Soul but renamed Seasons of a Life, was released
on January 24, 2006.
In 2007, Horne was portrayed by Leslie Uggams as the older Lena and Nikki Crawford as the younger Lena in
the stage musical Stormy Weather staged at the Playhouse"">Pasadena Playhouse in California (January through March
Horne married Louis Jordan Jones in January 1937 and lived in Pittsburgh. On December 21, 1937 they had a daughter, Gail (later known as Gail
Lumet Buckley, a best-selling author),
and a son, Edwin Jones (February 1940 - September 12, 1970 from disease" class="mw-redirect"">kidney disease).Horne and Jones separated in 1940 and divorced in 1944. Horne's second
marriage was to Lennie Hayton, a American" class="mw-redirect"">Jewish American and one of the premier
musical conductors and arrangers at MGM, in December 1947 in Paris.
They separated in the early 1960s, but never divorced; he died in 1971.
In her as-told-to autobiography Lena by Richard Schickel, Horne recounts the enormous pressures
she and her husband faced as an interracial married couple. She later
admitted in an (magazine)"">Ebony, May 1980 interview she had married Hayton to
advance her career.
Horne died on Sunday, May 9, 2010, at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley,
granddaughters Jenny and Amy Lumet, Lena Jones, Samadhi Jones, and
grandsons, William and Thomas Jones. The circumstances of her death were