Lena Horne: Actress, Singer, Dancer, and Civil Rights Activist



“Brazilian Boogie” from Broadway Rhythm, 1944


Born: Lena Mary Calhoun Horne on June 20, 1917 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York City. New York

Parents: Edwin Fletcher “Teddy” Horne Jr. (numbers kingpin in gambling trade) and Edna Louise Scottron (actress)

Siblings: ?

Grandparents: Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horn

Other Relatives: Maternal Great-Grandfather is Samuel R. Scottron, a prominent African-American inventor and maternal great-grandmother, Amelie Louis Ashton, a Senegalese slave.

Spouse(s): Lennie Hayton (married 1947-1971); Louis Jordan Jones (married 1937-1944)

                                                                      Lena and 2nd Husband Louis Jordan Jones
              Lena and First Husband, Lennie Hayton

Children: Gail Buckley Lumet (December 21, 1937) and Terry Jones (February 7, 1940-September 12, 1970)

Lena & Daughter Gail
Lena & Daughter Gail
Lena Horne & Children
Lena Horne & Children

Grandchildren: Jenny Lumet and Amy Lumet (Gail’s Children) Thomas, William, and Lena Jones (Teddy’s Children)

Lena Horne is a Grandmother of Twins – Jet Magazine, May 28, 1964

Thomas Jones (Terry’s Son)

Occupation: Actress, Singer, Dancer and Civil Rights Activist

Education: Girls High School, Brooklyn, New York

Accomplishments, Achievements, and Contributions: From Encyclopedia of World Biography

In 1943 a long booking at the SavoyPlaza Hotel, which brought Horne national coverage and a number of movie appearances, established her as the highest-paid African American entertainer in the United States. She was signed to a seven-year contract with the movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)—the first African American woman since 1915 to sign a term contract with a film studio. She was not dark enough in color to star with many of the African American actors of the day and her roles in white films were limited, since Hollywood was not ready to portray interracial relationships on screen.

Given these harsh limitations imposed on African Americans in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood movies, Horne’s film career is impressive. After singing roles in Panama Hattie (1942), Harlem on Parade (1942), I Dood It (1943), Swing Fever (1943), and As Thousands Cheer (1943), she was given a starring role in an allblack story, Cabin in the Sky (1943), which also starred her idol, Ethel Waters (1900–1977). Another major role followed in Stormy Weather (1943) and then some nonspeaking roles in Broadway Rhythm (1944), Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), and a musical biography of Rodgers and Hart, Words and Music (1948). She refused to take on any roles that were disrespectful to her as a woman of color.

Horne, despite her great fame, continued to experience humiliating racial discrimination (wrongful treatment because of race), and in the late 1940s she sued a number of restaurants and theaters for race discrimination and also began working with Paul Robeson in the Progressive Citizens of America, a political group opposing racism. During World War II (1939–45; a war in which Germany, Italy, and Japan fought against France, Great Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States), she used her own money to travel and entertain the troops. She also assisted Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) in her mission for antilynching legislation (laws making it illegal to hang a person accused of a crime without a trial). After the war Horne worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination.

In 1947 she married a white bandleader, Lennie Hayton, a marriage that was kept secret for three years because of racial pressures. Until his death in 1971, Hayton was also her pianist, arranger, conductor, and manager.

In the mid-1950s Horne made a movie appearance in Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) and recorded for the first time in five years. In 1957 she drew record crowds to the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria, and in 1958 and 1959 she starred in a Broadway musical, Jamaica.

During the 1960s Horne was involved in the American Civil Rights Movement. She participated in the March on Washington in 1963, performed at rallies in the South and elsewhere, and worked on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. During the same period, she was also very visible on television, appearing on popular variety shows and in her own special, Lena in Concert, in 1969. In 1969 Horne starred in the movie Death of a Gunfighter.

In 1981 Horne had her greatest triumph, a Broadway show called Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which was the talk of show business for fourteen months. It won a special Tony award, and the soundtrack won two Grammy awards.

In the 1990s Horne cut back on performing. She was drawn back from semiretirement to do a tribute concert for a long-time friend, composer Billy Strayhorn, at the JVC Jazz Festival. At age seventy-six she released her first album in a decade, We’ll Be Together Again. In 1997, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday, Horne was honored at the JVC Jazz Festival with a tribute concert and the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vocal Artistry. In 1999 she was honored at the New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall with an all-star salute.

Lena Horne is an amazing woman. Her pride in her heritage, her refusal to compromise herself, and her innate elegance, grace, and dignity has made her a legendary figure. Her role as a person who has helped to improve the status of African Americans in the performing arts has provided a permanent legacy.

Lena Horne, Ebony Magazine, March 1946

Quotes by or About Lena Horne:


Death: May 9, 2010 in Manhattan, New York City, New York

Lena Horne and company in Stormy Weather (1943).
Lena Horne and company in Stormy Weather (1943). Nitrate Diva, Tumblr

I Salute this AMAZING HER-story making sista!


Classic Movie Musicals

Encyclopedia of World Biography



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