AKA Lena Mary Calhoun Horne
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Location of death: Manhattan, NY
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Singer, Actor
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Stormy Weather
Lena Horne was a singer, dancer, actress, and activist who had a wildly successful career as a nightclub performer and recording artist. She was also a noted stage actress, but her success in Hollywood was cut short because of her outspoken activism and African-American heritage.
Horne's father earned a comfortable living, although exactly how he earned it was never clearly explained. Her parents separated when she was a toddler. She was raised by her grandparents, but occasionally toured with her mother, a struggling stage actress. Horne started working as a chorus girl at the age of 14. Within two years she was singing at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club, where Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington served as almost surrogate fathers, shielding her from the seedy side of the business. At 18, she married a preacher's son, and at 25 they were divorced.
She was often told she could increase her stage and touring paychecks by "passing" as white or Hispanic, something she never did, and when she came to Hollywood she insisted she would never play a maid. As a result, most of her movie roles were limited to a few minutes of on-screen singing, with the explicit understanding that her performance would be snipped out for the film when it was shown in theaters in the American South.
Her first memorable movies were both made in 1943. She starred opposite Mr Bojangles, Bill Robinson, in the romantic musical Stormy Weather, and famously sang the title tune. And she played sweet Georgia Brown in the soul-searching drama Cabin in the Sky with Louis Armstrong and Eddie Anderson. In addition to "Stormy Weather," her biggest hits include "'Deed I Do", "As Long As I Live", and Cole Porter's "Just One Of Those Things". At 33, she began singing with an otherwise-white swing band, but eventually left the group when she became frustrated by segregated hotels and restaurants.
During World War II, like many American performers, she toured Europe entertaining American troops. She became controversial, however, when she refused to sing for segregated audiences, leading to "one-night integration" for numerous military concerts, and more often performing at black-only venues. When she was not allowed to perform on the bases, she instead sang at whatever local nightclub welcomed African-American customers.
An outspoken black woman, Horne's Hollywood options were limited, and her film career came to a sudden halt after her 1947 marriage to a white man, composer/conductor Lennie Hayton. They were one of the first racially-mixed couples in show business, in a time when such marriages were not just controversial, but still illegal -- the ceremony took place in France, to sidestep a California law against miscegenation.
She worked for civil rights, and was blacklisted in the communist scare of the 1950s, although she always said that the most "radical" group she had ever joined also counted Eleanor Roosevelt as a member. For all her adult life, she was active with the NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Urban League, speaking at protests and singing at fundraisers.
In 1969's Death of a Gunfighter, she played the whorehouse madame who slept with the town marshal, Richard Widmark. She was one of the narrators of That's Entertainment III, and for several years she shilled Sanka decaffeinated coffee in commercials and on billboards. In her last film performance, perhaps best-known to present-day audiences, she played Glenda the Good Witch in The Wiz, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. She said she never sang when she was alone, owned few of her own records, and always suffered from stage fright.
Horne asked Janet Jackson to star in an autobiographical film of her life, but changed her mind after Jackson's breast became briefly visible during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Instead, Horne later said she would prefer Whitney Houston play her in any film.
Horne's maternal grandfather, Samuel Scottron, invented an adjustable rear view mirror.
Father: Edwin Fletcher Horne, Jr. ("Teddy")
Mother: Edna Louise Scottron (actress)
Husband: Louis Jones (m. Jan-1937, div. 1944, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Gail Lumet Buckley (author, b. 21-Dec-1937)
Son: Theodore Jones (b. Feb-1940, d. 1970 kidney failure)
Husband: Lennie Hayton (composer, m. 1947, d. 24-Apr-1971)
Boyfriend: Joe Louis
High School: Girls High School, Brooklyn, NY (dropped out)
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
Tony 1982 for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
Spingarn Medal 1983
Kennedy Center Honor 1984
Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame 1991
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6282 Hollywood Blvd (motion pictures)
Hollywood Walk of Fame 6250 Hollywood Blvd (recordings)
Risk Factors: Multiple Sclerosis
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
That's Entertainment! III (16-Jun-1994) · Herself
The Wiz (24-Oct-1978)
Death of a Gunfighter (25-Apr-1969) · Claire Quintana
Meet Me in Las Vegas (9-Mar-1956) · Herself
Duchess of Idaho (14-Jul-1950) · Herself
Words and Music (9-Dec-1948) · Herself
Till the Clouds Roll By (5-Dec-1946) · Julie
Ziegfeld Follies (8-Apr-1946) · Singer
Two Girls and a Sailor (27-Apr-1944) · Specialty
Broadway Rhythm (19-Jan-1944) · Fernway de la Fer
Stormy Weather (17-Nov-1943) · Selina Rogers
Swing Fever (1-Nov-1943) · Herself
Thousands Cheer (13-Sep-1943) · Herself
I Dood It (Sep-1943) · Herself
Cabin in the Sky (9-Apr-1943) · Georgia Brown
The Bronze Venus (Jun-1938)
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