Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an African American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer. Horne joined the 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 Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Due to the Red Scare and her left-leaning political views, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood.
Lena Horne

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.”
                                                     Lena Horne

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.
See her belt out “Stormy Weather” here:
But when MGM made “Show Boat” into a movie for the second time, in 1951, the role of Julie was given to a white actress, Ava Gardner, whose singing voice was dubbed. (Ms. Horne was no longer under contract to MGM at the time, and according to James Gavin’s Horne biography, “Stormy Weather,” published last year, she was never seriously considered for the part.) And when Ms. Horne herself married a white man — the prominent arranger, conductor and pianist Lennie Hayton, who was for many years both her musical director and MGM’s — the marriage, in 1947, took place in France and was kept secret for three years.
Lena Horne: 1935: A studio portrait of Lena Horne
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.”
Lena Horne: 1942: 'Panama Hattie'
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

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.”
Lena Horne

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.
                                          Sexy and classy Lena Horne

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.”
Lena Horne

Grammy Awards [edit]

Lena Horne Grammy Award History
1995Best Jazz Vocal PerformanceAn Evening with Lena HorneJazzBlue NoteWinner
1989Lifetime Achievement AwardWinner
1988Best Jazz Vocal Performance – FemaleThe Men in My LifeJazzThree CherriesNominee
1988Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Duo or Group"I Won't Leave You Again"JazzThree CherriesNominee
1981Best Pop Vocal Performance, FemaleLena Horne: The Lady and Her MusicPopQwestWinner
1981Best Cast Show AlbumLena Horne: The Lady and Her MusicPopQwestWinner
1962Best Female Vocal PerformancePorgy and BessPopRCANominee
1961Female Solo Vocal PerformanceLena at the SandsPopRCANominee
Lena Horne

Other awards [edit]

2006Martin Luther King, Jr.
National Historic Site
International Civil Rights Walk of Fame[25]Inducted
1999NAACP Image AwardOutstanding Jazz ArtistWinner
1994Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement AwardSongwriters Hall of FameWinner
 ?Hollywood Chamber of CommerceHollywood Walk of FameWinnerHonor (motion pictures)
 ?Hollywood Chamber of CommerceHollywood Walk of FameWinnerHonor (recordings)
1987American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers
The ASCAP Pied Piper Award[26]WinnerGiven to entertainers who have made significant contributions to words and music
1985Emmy AwardLena Horne: The Lady and Her MusicNominee
1984John F. Kennedy Center for
the Performing Arts
Kennedy Center Honors[27]WinnerFor extraordinary talent, creativity, and perseverance
1980Howard UniversityHonorary doctorate[28]Honored
1980Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Actress – MusicalWinnerLena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1980New York Drama Critics Circle AwardsSpecial CitationWinnerLena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1981Tony AwardsSpecial CitationWinnerLena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1957Tony AwardsBest ActressNominee"Jamaica"
Lena Horne


Lena Horne, entertainer, died on May 9th, aged 92

|From the print editio

TO THOSE few Americans in the 1950s who did not care about race—who did not quibble about one-thirty-seconds or one-sixty-fourths, and who were happy to share washroom or soda fountain with people of another shade—Lena Horne was simply one of the most beautiful women in the world. There was something of Audrey Hepburn in her large brown eyes, and of Hedy Lamarr in her tall forehead; her nose was bobbed and cute. But to everyone else Ms Horne, before her beauty was even considered, was black.
Lena Horne: 1994: Lena Horne in New York City
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'
There were ways of saying this gently, of course. She was not coal or piccaninny black; she was “dusky”, “sepia”, “milk-chocolate”, café au lait. At Harlem's Cotton Club, where she started her career at 16 as a dancer, she was “tan and terrific”, like the others. The MGM Studios in Hollywood, where she went at 24 in 1941, tried to pass her off as a Latina on her contract. A special make-up, called Light Egyptian, would be rubbed on her skin to make her look more coloured: a better match for the ink-black mammies and funny-men around her.
Lena Horne: 1981: Lena Horne in a Broadway production
1981: Starring in the Broadway production Lena Horne: the Lady and Her Music. Her one-woman show won a special Tony award
Her race-blind fans would have been prepared to see her star in any show, as elegant, satin-clad and triumphant as she eventually appeared in 1981 in “The Lady and her Music” in New York. But to casting directors during segregation she could only be a lady's maid or a jungle girl. At best she could star in all-black comedies, as a devil-sent temptress in “Cabin in the Sky” (1943), or as the lead in the Broadway musical “Jamaica” (1957). She belonged in the piny woods or under the palms.
Because she was lovely, and could sing bewitchingly, she was also allowed a few solo scenes in “white” films. There, like “a butterfly pinned to a column”, she would deliver a number which could be seamlessly cut when the picture was shown in southern cinemas. Her greatest hope was to be allowed to play Julie, a mulatto, in “Show Boat”. But Julie had to fall in love with a white man; so Ava Gardner played her, initially lip-synching to Miss Horne's recordings and even made browner with her Light Egyptian. Lena and Ava were friends. But it hurt to the end of her days.
Lena Horne: 1948
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'
It hurt all the more because the young Lena did not think of herself as black particularly. Her blood was mixed up on both sides with white European and native American, so that in her black school she was “yellow” to her playmates, and was whispered to have a white Daddy. Both blacks and whites felt she was not one of them. Her family's social models were the white bourgeoisie; her father, resplendent in a suit with a diamond stick-pin, had told Louis B. Mayer to his face that he didn't want his daughter playing maids in Hollywood, because she could have maids of her own. Not that it did any good. At one of her lowest points Miss Horne went to tea with Hattie McDaniel, who had played Mammy in “Gone with the Wind”. They ate tiny sandwiches and cakes in her grand drawing room, while Hattie explained that a maid's role was her only realistic future on the screen. Pretty soon afterwards, she threw in the acting life.
A tiger inside
Singing, though she made her career in it, proved no simpler. She toured with Charlie Barnet's all-white band in 1940, sleeping in the band bus when hotels would not take her in, but counted in her repertoire songs like “Sleepy Time Down South”, which blacks were expected to sing. She felt forced into jazz, and not much good at it. Although she covered songs by Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters, her neat enunciation, expressiveness and clarity made her sound more like Judy Garland. Waters's “Stormy Weather” became her theme, but when she sang it—especially in the film of 1943, against rain-soaked city streets—she looked, and sounded, somewhere over the rainbow, and closer to Kansas.
The insults she suffered, therefore—debarred from lodging houses, spat at in the street, forbidden from mixing with white customers—were all the worse because she did not feel she represented a race, only herself. And conversely, the barriers she broke—first black star on a long-term contract with a studio, first black on the cover of Motion Picturemagazine, first star whose picture could be pinned up by black GIs in their lockers—gave her neither pride nor joy, because she thought only of the label that had been stuck on her. She was not a symbol, not a credit, not a first this and that, as she cried bitterly in her old age. “I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.”
In the 1950s she was blacklisted for her friendship with Paul Robeson, a communist sympathiser; it hampered her career in her best years, though the voice soared on. In the 1960s she campaigned for civil rights, drawn as much to the militancy of Malcolm X as to Martin Luther King's non-violence. When a man called her “nigger” in a Beverly Hills restaurant she hurled an ashtray, a lamp and several glasses at him, until he bled. She used her white husband, Lennie Hayton, as a whipping boy for her frustration. “Never hope too hard,” she said. “Never pans out.”
Miss Horne's producers once complained that she opened her mouth too wide to sing. They meant it was a Negro thing. Certainly Miss Horne had a wide, extravagant smile, a real show-stopper. But it was on the face of a tiger. It hid a lifetime of ferocious resentment and regret.
Lena Horne: 1969: Lena Horne and Richard Widmark in 'Death Of A Gunfighter'
1969: With Richard Widmark in the western Death of a Gunfighter. She would not return to the screen for almost a decade because hollywood couldnt accept that she is black
Tuskegee Airmen with Lena Horne and Noel Parrish. Silver gelatin print.Noel Parrish Collection. Manuscript Division. (8-7)
Lena Horne visiting Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama in 1943.

   Lena Horne waits backstage at the Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles where Dorothy Dandridge appeared in the musical “Sweet n’ Hot” (1944)

Lena Horne

A picture is certainly worth a thousand words. What better way to celebrate Black History Month than by taking a moment to acknowledge the snapshots of time that represent the struggle and triumph of African-Americans through the years?
As part of our Black History Month coverage, we will be featuring one photo a day that honors years of groundbreaking achievements within the black community. These photos bring tears to our eyes, instill pride in our hearts and motivate us to carry on the legacy of strength and perseverance.
Today's photo was taken on January 1, 1945, showing legendary entertainer Lena Horne with a group of Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, Horne was very popular with both black and white servicemen and performed live on several USO tours. However, after black soldiers were barred from one of her concerts and forced to sit behind German prisoners at another, she became upset with how African American servicemen were treated and quit the tours altogether. Instead, she payed her own way to perform for soldiers in the West and the South, paying multiple visits to the Tuskegee Airmen at their training base in Alabama.
Tuskegee air squadron, Roscoe Brown Jr., spoke at Horne's funeral saying:
"This wonderful, beautiful lady, Lena Horne, came to visit us. She sang, she talked with us and she made us all her boyfriends. The men took her picture and put it on our barracks, on our planes, and she became our pinup girl."

 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

Lena Horne Pall bearers carry the casket of late singer/actress Lena Horne into the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on May 14, 2010 in New York, New York.
Family And Friends Attend Services For Entertainer Lena Horne


Hazel Scott and Lena Horne c. 1940s
Hazel Scott and Lena Horne c. 1940s

News Photo: Aretha Franklin and Lena Horne
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01 1993: Aretha Franklin and Lena Horne (Photo by Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)


  1. Isn't the following pic of her granddaughter? "Lena Horne Hugging Daughter, Writer Gail Lunet Buckley, after Concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC"


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