Civil rights activist and ground breaking singer Lena Horne, passed away Sunday, May 9, at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She was 92.
Lena Horne had broke grounds by becoming the first African-American performer to be put under contract by a major Hollywood studio. Her movie career spanned nearly six decades and included a smattering of well-regarded films, like Stormy Weather (1943), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), but Horne was best known for her singing and deservingly so.
Horne’s film career was restricted by her race despite being so light-skinned she was teased as a child about having a white father even though she didn’t. She would be used in films where her part could be easily removed for screenings in Southern theaters.
Lena’s music career included magical collaborations with Tony Bennett,and her Tony-nominated performance in the Broadway musical, Calypso, just to name a few.
Her tours with the USO were controversial due to her unabashed criticism of the treatment of black soldiers. The US military was segregated at the time, and her commentary on the issues surrounding that led to her being removed from the USO’s stable of performers. It was not long after that when her film career all but died.
Lena Horne moved on to television and live performance, becoming a major hitmaker for RCA Victor records and appearing on dozens of television shows. She also turned to the stage, with a one-woman show called “Lena Horne: The Lady and her Music” which ran for 14 months starting in 1981 and earned her a Tony Award.
Horne grew up in an upper-middle-class African American enclave of Brooklyn, raised primarily by her grandparents after age 3, when both her parents left the family. By the time she was 16, Horne had scored a regular singing gig at Manhattan’s Cotton Club, and from there history was made.
Horne was also dedicated to her advocacy for civil rights, fighting for desegregation alongside such legends of the movement as Paul Robeson and Medgar Evers. She also fought with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
The mesmerizing Lena Horne’s graceful talent and her fierce independence created a powerful force in breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood and beyond.
She is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. Her husband and son both died in 1971.
She will be greatly missed. R.I.P The wonderful Lena Horne.