Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, 1917 - 2010

portrait of Lena Horne
The Bell Telephone Hour television set (19 January 1965)

Born: 30 June 1917, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York
Died: 9 May 2010, New York City

Born to middle-class black parents, Horne was the cover girl for the NAACP's monthly bulletin at age two. Her parents split in 1920 and she was largely raised by her paternal grandparents. At sixteen her mother pulled her out of high school to audition at the Cotton Club, she made her Broadway debut two years later. She had a brief marriage, a daughter stayed with her while the son stayed with her husband, then appeared in her first film in 1938, for which she was never paid. She was singing at the Manhattan nightclub Café Society when Hollywood spotted her. Her seven-year contract with MGM was the first long-term contract with a black performer. At a time when blacks were not allowed to live at Hollywood, a white man signed the lease on a house for her. The neighbors were up in arms until Humphrey Bogart, who lived across the street, came to her defense. Her movies for MGM restricted her to singing parts, she said she only spoke to a white actor in one movie, so that her songs could be cut from the films when shown in the South. She toured Army camps with the USO but her insistence on better treatment of black GIs ended the relationship; she once refused to go on when German POWs were seated in front of black American troops. She was blacklisted through the 1950s for her early civil rights stance and was active and visible in the protests of the early 1960s. Although she appeared in three later movies and made frequent appearances on television, she primarily devoted herself to her nightclub performances and recordings. In 1981 she mounted a solo show on Broadway: Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music which ran for a full year, closing on her 65th birthday, then toured 41 cities in the US and Canada, played for a month at London and closed at Stockholm. She won a special Tony award, an Emmy, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and two Grammy Awards for that show, the longest running solo performance ever on Broadway. She won four Grammys (nominated for eight), Kennedy Center Honors in 1984, an honorary doctorate from Howard University, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; one for movie roles and one for her recordings. She died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, cause of death was heart failure.

Biography from Wikipedia and New York Times obituary

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