Ms. Horne first achieved fame in the 1940s, became a nightclub and recording star in the 1950s and made a triumphant return to the spotlight with a one-woman Broadway show in 1981. She might have become a major movie star, but she was born 50 years too early: she languished at MGM for years because of her race, although she was so light-skinned that when she was a child other black children had taunted her, accusing her of having a “white daddy.”
Ms. Horne was stuffed into one “all-star” film musical after another — “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), “Words and Music” (1948) — to sing a song or two that, she later recalled, could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South, where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.
“The only time I ever said a word to another actor who was white was Kathryn Grayson in a little segment of ‘Show Boat’ ” included in “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), a movie about the life of Jerome Kern, Ms. Horne said in an interview in 1990. In that sequence she played Julie, a mulatto forced to flee the showboat because she has married a white man.
1935: A studio portrait of Lena Horne. Four years later, she was described in the New York Times as 'a radiantly beautiful sepia girl who will be a winner when she has proper direction'
Ms. Horne’s first MGM movie was “Panama Hattie” (1942), in which she sang Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things.” Writing about that film years later, Pauline Kael called it “a sad disappointment, though Lena Horne is ravishing, and when she sings you can forget the rest of the picture.”
1942: Performing in the film Panama Hattie, the first of several movies she made with MGM early in her career
Even before she came to Hollywood, Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The New York Times, noticed Ms. Horne in “Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939,” a Broadway revue that ran for nine performances. “A radiantly beautiful sepia girl,” he wrote, “who will be a winner when she has proper direction.”
Lena Horne wearing fur dess
She had proper direction in two all-black movie musicals, both made in 1943. Lent to 20th Century Fox for “Stormy Weather,” one of those show business musicals with almost no plot but lots of singing and dancing, Ms. Horne did both triumphantly, ending with the sultry, aching sadness of the title number, which would become one of her signature songs. In MGM’s “Cabin in the Sky,” the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, she was the brazen, sexy handmaiden of the Devil. (One number she shot for that film, “Ain’t It the Truth,” which she sang while taking a bubble bath, was deleted before the film was released — not for racial reasons, as her stand-alone performances in other MGM musicals sometimes were, but because it was considered too risqué.)
In 1945 the critic and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent wrote in Liberty magazine that Ms. Horne was “the nation’s top Negro entertainer.” In addition to her MGM salary of $1,000 a week, she was earning $1,500 for every radio appearance and $6,500 a week when she played nightclubs. She was also popular with servicemen, white and black, during World War II, appearing more than a dozen times on the Army radio program “Command Performance.”
Lena Horne, Bronze Goddess of Film
“The whole thing that made me a star was the war,” Ms. Horne said in the 1990 interview. “Of course the black guys couldn’t put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.”
Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. “So the U.S.O. got mad,” she recalled. “And they said, ‘You’re not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.’ So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl.”
USO entertainer and singer Lena Horne (C), shown with a service member (L) and USO volunteer (R) in an undated photo. (Photo property of USO Archives)
Ms. Horne later claimed that for this and other reasons, including her friendship with leftists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and “unable to do films or television for the next seven years” after her tenure with MGM ended in 1950.
This was not quite true: as Mr. Gavin has documented, she appeared frequently on “Your Show of Shows” and other television shows in the 1950s, and in fact “found more acceptance” on television “than almost any other black performer.” And Mr. Gavin and others have suggested that there were other factors in addition to politics or race involved in her lack of film work.
Although absent from the screen, Ms. Horne found success in nightclubs and on records. “Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria,” recorded during a well-received eight-week run in 1957, reached the Top 10 and became the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor’s history.
In the early 1960s Ms. Horne, always outspoken on the subject of civil rights, became increasingly active, participating in numerous marches and protests.
In 1969, she returned briefly to films, playing the love interest of a white actor, Richard Widmark, in “Death of a Gunfighter.”
She was to act in only one other movie: In 1978 she played Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz,” the film version of the all-black Broadway musical based on “The Wizard of Oz.” But she never stopped singing.
She continued to record prolifically well into the 1990s, for RCA and other labels, notably United Artists and Blue Note. And she conquered Broadway in 1981 with a one-woman show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which ran for 14 months and won both rave reviews and a Tony Award.
Lena Horne in the movie "Cabin in the sky"
Ms. Horne’s voice was not particularly powerful, but it was extremely expressive. She reached her listeners emotionally by acting as well as singing the romantic standards like “The Man I Love” and “Moon River” that dominated her repertory. The person she always credited as her main influence was not another singer but a pianist and composer, Duke Ellington’s longtime associate Billy Strayhorn.
“I wasn’t born a singer,” she told Strayhorn’s biographer, David Hajdu. “I had to learn a lot. Billy rehearsed me. He stretched me vocally.” Strayhorn occasionally worked as her accompanist and, she said, “taught me the basics of music, because I didn’t know anything.”
Strayhorn was also “the only man I ever loved,” she said, but Strayhorn was openly gay, and their close friendship never became a romance. “He was just everything that I wanted in a man,” she told Mr. Hajdu, “except he wasn’t interested in me sexually.”
Lena Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Reported to be descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of European American, Native American, and African-American descent, and belonged to the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated blacks.
Her father, Edwin Fletcher "Teddy" Horne, Jr. (1892–1970), 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 Louise Scottron (1895–1985), daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre troupe and traveled extensively. Scottron's maternal grandmother, Amelie Louise Ashton, was a Senegalese slave. Lena Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.
Lena Horne, described as one of the NAACP's "youngest members," as pictured in a 1919 edition of the Branch Bulletin. From "The Hornes: An American Family."
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 dean of students at Fort Valley Junior Industrial Institute (now part of Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia, and who would later become an adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
From Fort Valley, southwest of 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 that has since become Boys and Girls High School; she dropped out without earning a diploma. Aged 18, she moved in with her father in Pittsburgh, staying in the city's Little Harlem for almost five years and learning from native Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine, among others.
Her paternal grandparents, Edwin and Cora Horne, were early members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in October 1919, at the age of 2, Lena was the cover girl for the organization’s monthly bulletin.
By then the marriage of her parents, Edna and Teddy Horne, was in trouble. “She was spoiled and badly educated and he was fickle,” Ms. Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her family history, “The Hornes.” By 1920 Teddy had left his job with the New York Department of Labor and fled to Seattle, and Edna had fled to a life on the stage in Harlem. Ms. Horne was raised by her paternal grandparents until her mother took her back four years later.
Two black icons: Lena Horne and Hazel Scott
When she was 16, her mother pulled her out of school to audition for the dance chorus at the Cotton Club, the famous Harlem nightclub where the customers were white, the barely dressed dancers were light-skinned blacks and the proprietors were gangsters. A year after joining the Cotton Club chorus she made her Broadway debut, performing a voodoo dance in the short-lived show “Dance With Your Gods” in 1934.
At 19, Ms. Horne married the first man she had ever dated, 28-year-old Louis Jones, and became a conventional middle-class Pittsburgh wife. Her daughter Gail was born in 1937 and a son, Teddy, in 1940. The marriage ended soon afterward. Ms. Horne kept Gail, but Mr. Jones refused to give up Teddy, although he did allow the boy long visits with his mother.
In 1938, Ms. Horne starred in a quickie black musical film, “The Duke Is Tops,” for which she was never paid. Her return to movies was on a grander scale.
She had been singing at the Manhattan nightclub Café Society when the impresario Felix Young chose her to star at the Trocadero, a nightclub he was planning to open in Hollywood in the fall of 1941. In 1990, Ms. Horne reminisced: “My only friends were the group of New Yorkers who sort of stuck with their own group — like Vincente, Gene Kelly, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Richard Whorf — the sort of hip New Yorkers who allowed Paul Robeson and me in their houses.”
Since blacks were not allowed to live in Hollywood, “Felix Young, a white man, signed for the house as if he was going to rent it,” Ms. Horne said. “When the neighbors found out, Humphrey Bogart, who lived right across the street from me, raised hell with them for passing around a petition to get rid of me.” Bogart, she said, “sent word over to the house that if anybody bothered me, please let him know.”
Roger Edens, the composer and musical arranger who had been Judy Garland’s chief protector at MGM, had heard the elegant Ms. Horne sing at Café Society and also went to hear her at the Little Troc. (The war had scaled down Mr. Young’s ambitions to a small club with a gambling den on the second floor.) He insisted that Arthur Freed, the producer of MGM’s lavish musicals, listen to Ms. Horne sing. Then Freed insisted that Louis B. Mayer, who ran the studio, hear her, too. He did, and soon she had signed a seven-year contract with MGM. She was not the first black performer under contract to a major studio — MGM had signed the actress Nina Mae McKinney for five years in 1929 — but she was the first to make an impact.
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 African American servicemen", according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because the U.S. Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a 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. 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.
Lena Horne and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a party Ms. Horne gave in Dr. King’s honor in New York in 1963. Photo by Steve Schapiro.
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, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP
The N.A.A.C.P. celebrated her contract as a weapon in its war to get better movie roles for black performers. Her father weighed in, too. In a 1997 PBS interview, she recalled: “My father said, ‘I can get a maid for my daughter. I don’t want her in the movies playing maids.’ ”
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway in "Stormy Weather"
Ms. Horne is survived by her daughter; Gail Lumet Buckley; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her son died of kidney failure in 1970; her husband died the following year.
Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: “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.”
Grammy Awards 
|1995||Best Jazz Vocal Performance||An Evening with Lena Horne||Jazz||Blue Note||Winner|
|1989||Lifetime Achievement Award||Winner|
|1988||Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female||The Men in My Life||Jazz||Three Cherries||Nominee|
|1988||Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Duo or Group||"I Won't Leave You Again"||Jazz||Three Cherries||Nominee|
|1981||Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music||Pop||Qwest||Winner|
|1981||Best Cast Show Album||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music||Pop||Qwest||Winner|
|1962||Best Female Vocal Performance||Porgy and Bess||Pop||RCA||Nominee|
|1961||Female Solo Vocal Performance||Lena at the Sands||Pop||RCA||Nominee|
Other awards 
|2006||Martin Luther King, Jr.|
National Historic Site
|International Civil Rights Walk of Fame||Inducted|
|1999||NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Jazz Artist||Winner|
|1994||Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award||Songwriters Hall of Fame||Winner|
|?||Hollywood Chamber of Commerce||Hollywood Walk of Fame||Winner||Honor (motion pictures)|
|?||Hollywood Chamber of Commerce||Hollywood Walk of Fame||Winner||Honor (recordings)|
|1987||American Society of Composers,|
Authors and Publishers
|The ASCAP Pied Piper Award||Winner||Given to entertainers who have made significant contributions to words and music|
|1985||Emmy Award||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music||Nominee|
|1984||John F. Kennedy Center for|
the Performing Arts
|Kennedy Center Honors||Winner||For extraordinary talent, creativity, and perseverance|
|1980||Howard University||Honorary doctorate||Honored|
|1980||Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Actress – Musical||Winner||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music|
|1980||New York Drama Critics Circle Awards||Special Citation||Winner||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music|
|1981||Tony Awards||Special Citation||Winner||Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music|
|1957||Tony Awards||Best Actress||Nominee||"Jamaica"|
Lena Horne, entertainer, died on May 9th, aged 92
1994: Horne in New York. 'My identity is very clear to me now,' she would say a few years later. 'I am a black woman. I’m free ... 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'
1981: Starring in the Broadway production Lena Horne: the Lady and Her Music. Her one-woman show won a special Tony award
1948: Horne was considered Hollywood's first black sex symbol. 'I had the worst kind of acceptance,' she once said, 'because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked'
Lena Horne visiting Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama in 1943.
CABIN IN THE SKY (1943)–The greatest entertainers of their era–Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne–sing about a gambler caught between the Soldiers of the Lord’s Army vs. Lucifer, Jr.. The power of a wife’s fervant prayers to buy a wayward husband a little more time
Lena Horne and Aretha Franklin at 1993 Essence Awards
Lena horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson;" King of Tap "
Lena Horne Hugging Daughter, Writer Gail Lunet Buckley, after Concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC
Lena on Broadway show
Family And Friends Attend Services For Entertainer Lena Horne
Hazel Scott and Lena Horne c. 1940s
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01 1993: Aretha Franklin and Lena Horne (Photo by Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)