Singer, dancer and actress Lena Horne died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday night, a hospital spokeswoman said. Horne was 92.
She was one of the first African-Americans to sign a long-term movie contract with a major Hollywood studio when she joined MGM in 1942.
Horne’s expressive voice made her a singing star after Hollywood failed to give her roles that might have made her a big screen starlet.
Horne complained she was used as “window dressing” in white films, mostly limited to singing performances that could be easily edited out for play in southern theaters.
The light-complected Horne refused to go along with studio plans to promote her as a Latin American.
She later said she did not want to be “an imitation of a white woman.”
Her childhood was nomadic as she traveled with her actress mother, but much of her time growing up was spent in Brooklyn, New York, where she was born in 1917.
Horne was 16 when she began her show business career as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club. She later became a singer there, playing to packed houses of white patrons, with band leaders Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.
She toured as a featured singer with a white band in 1940, a first for an African-American, according to her official biography.
Her first film role came in 1938 in “The Duke is Tops,” but her next movie didn’t come along for another four years.
She was given a screen test by MGM and signed to a movie contract after a studio scout saw her performing in a New York club.
“I think the black boy that cleaned the shoes and me were the only two black people except the maids who were there working for the stars,” Horne said in a CNN interview. “And it was very lonely, and I wasn’t very happy.”
Still, Horne said she was grateful that her World War II-era films — including “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather” — were seen by black and white soldiers.
“But after I realized I would only go so far, I went on the stage,” Horne said.
With only subservient roles available for a black actress in Hollywood in the 1940s, Horne turned to recording top-selling songs.
Horne said performing for live audiences was what she loved most.
“I’m always happy when I’m surrounded by people to react and feel and touch,” she said.
She has a son and daughter from a first marriage that ended in 1944.
Horne married again in 1947 to Lennie Hayton, who was then MGM’s music director.
She was an active supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement. Horne was there when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Lincoln Memorial steps in 1963.
(From: NOLA.Tv – New Orleans innovative web based News, Entertainment and Local television broadcasting.)
LENA HORNE, SINGER, ACTRESS AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST, DIES AT 92
HORNE WAS AWARDED NAACP’S SPINGARN MEDAL FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN ACHIEVEMENT IN 1983, NAACP IMAGE AWARD IN 1999
WASHINGTON DC – The NAACP is saddened by the loss of singer, actress and civil rights activist Lena Horne. Horne died on May 9 at the age of 92.
“We mourn the passing of Lena Horne, an outstanding, groundbreaking entertainer and a staunch civil rights activist who stood on the side of justice and equality,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Lena Horne won the hearts of millions of Americans of all backgrounds as a glamorous and graceful actress and singer. She courageously broke many color barriers and fought valiantly to bring down the institutionalized racism that plagues our society and prevents all Americans from an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.”
An accomplished singer and actress, Horne became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, signing with MGM in 1943, but became disenchanted with Hollywood by the mid-1950s. She increased her focus on her singing career, solidifying herself as a premiere nightclub performer and starring in several musicals. Horne later returned to acting, appearing on several television shows such as Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Bell Telephone Hour. She later co-starred with prominent actors Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett in Harry and Lena and Tony and Lena, and starred in the classic African American musical The Wiz. The singer also performed on dozens of albums featuring the likes of Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joe Williams, and Gábor Szabó, and received an NAACP Image Award in 1999 for Outstanding Jazz Artist.
In addition to her legacy as an entertainer, Horne was also known for her advocacy and contributions to social justice. At an early age, Horne displayed a passion for civil rights, and she first became a member of the NAACP as a student at Atlanta’s Washington High School. Later, while singing for troops during World War II, she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen.” She was in attendance at an NAACP rally with Field Secretary Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi on the weekend before Evers was assassinated, and spoke and performed at the March on Washington on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women.
“Lena Horne’s spirit and willingness to stand for what is just transcended her accomplishments in the arts, and we are extremely grateful for her commitment to civil rights and the mission of the NAACP,” said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “Her long-standing relationship with the NAACP dates back to high school, while her service to the Association as a member and public advocate was invaluable. Lena Horne was an excellent example of someone who used her platform as an entertainer to advocate for equal rights for African Americans and give a voice to the voiceless, and she will be missed” added Brock.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil