I got distracted from posting for March 5! So pretend I'm posting from the West Coast. Here she is...Lena Horne
Lena Calhoun Horne was born June 30, 1917, Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Edna, had an extremely fair complexion, and the hospital staff thought she was Caucasian. Her father, Teddy, wasn't there at her birth -- he was out gambling to win enough money to pay the hospital bill. When Horne was a child, her parents were divorced, and her mother, an aspiring actress, took her south and boarded her with various families while she attempted to find work. By the early 1930s, she returned to New York with her re-married mother and briefly entertained the idea of becoming a teacher, a dream the depression helped to shoot down. She quit Girls High School in Brooklyn and took her first steps into show business as a dancer in the chorus at Harlem's famous Cotton Club
, where blacks entertained a strictly white clientele. If the performers' relatives or friends tried to gain admittance, they were bounced. Although she was not allowed to sing, she did get to meet and observe such renowned artists as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Ethel Waters, and Billie Holiday.
When her stepfather was physically abused by the club owners for pushing the idea of her singing there, she decided that she "had to get out."
After a brief marriage at the age of 19 to Louis Jones, the college-educated son of a minister, during which she lived in Pittsburgh and had two children, Gail and Teddy (Teddy died in 1970 from a kidney ailment), Horne returned to New York and jazz and the Big Band sounds. She began singing with Noble Sissle's Society Orchestra, honing her distinctive vocalizing style and elegant manner as she toured amidst applause and racism, having to sleep in tenement boarding houses, the bus, and once in circus grounds in Indianapolis.
The distinctive star tested her soon-to-become formidable talent on the Broadway musical stage in Blackbirds of 1939
. She later scored a major triumph in Harold Arlen's Jamaica
. In 1940, she became the first African American to tour with an all white band, Charlie Barnet's outfit, a move she considers to be the real beginning of her success as a singer. She was the featured singer.
It was while she was singing at a New York nightspot that an MGM talent scout caught her act and arranged a screen test for her which landed her a contract to the studio, where she faced more hurdles.
She recalls serving, however, as "window dressing" in such films as Panama Hattie, Thousands Cheer, Two Girls and a Sailor
, and Duchess of Idaho
, after having refused to try to "pass as a Latin" because of her light coloring.
She starred in two memorable black musicals : Cabin in the Sky
and Stormy Weather
. The title song, sung by Lena, became one of her trademark numbers. The studio sent her on a tour of its theaters to promote the films in song. As a result she became one of the top nightclub and theater box office attractions in the country.
In the early days, she was referred to as a "cafe au lait Hedy Lamarr" and a "chocolate chanteuse." Even after she achieved stardom as a singer, she was refused a room at the hotels where she was performing--even in New York City as late as 1942--because she was black. In the Hollywood of the 1940s, she says she was invited to parties only with the unwritten understanding that she provide the entertainment.
While entertaining the troops during World War II, Horne got into another battle of her own. She refused to sing for segregated audiences or to groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen. She also became the pin-up girl for thousands of African American G.I.s. She was later to take her fight for integrated audiences out of the war zone and onto the nightclub and theater stages.
Her second marriage, to musical arranger Lennie Hayton, took place in 1947 but was not announced for three years because he was white, which offended both blacks and whites to the extent that the couple received hate mail and threats of violence. Horne admitted that she married Hayton not because she loved him, but because "he had more entree than a black man." But as their twenty-four married years went by, she "learned to love him because of how good he was to me and patient."
She had become a ranking international star playing to SRO audiences throughout the world, sharing the stage with the likes of Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Billy Eckstein, Vic Damone, and Harry Belafonte. She also starred in musical and television specials with such giants as Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.
Horne has also always found time to devote to the causes in which she truly believes, and starting with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she had company in her battles for equality.Much like her good friend Paul Robeson, Horne's great fame could not prevent the wheels of the anti-Communist machine from bearing down on her. Her civil rights activism and friendship with Robeson and others marked her as a Communist sympathizer. Like many politically active artists of the time, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to perform on television or in the movies. For seven years the attacks on her person and political beliefs continued. During this time, however, Horne worked as a singer, appearing in nightclubs and making some of her best recordings. Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria
, recorded in 1957, is still considered to be one of her best. Though the conservative atmosphere of the 1950s took their toll on Horne, by the 1960s she had returned to the public eye and was again a major cultural figure.
In 1963, she participated in the march on Washington and performed at rallies throughout the country for the National Council for Negro Women
(founded by Mary McLeod Bethune). Her paternal grandmother, a suffragette and activist, had enrolled her in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
when she was two, and she has worked with it, the NCNW and with other such organizations as the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Urban League
, speaking at rallies and singing at demonstrations.
She followed that with a decade of international touring, recording, and acting on both television and the silver screen. Horne had found in her growing audience a renewed sense of purpose. All of this came crashing down when her father, son and husband died in a period of twelve months during the early 1970s. Horne retreated almost completely from public life. It was not until 1981 that she fully returned, making a triumphant comeback with a one-person show on Broadway. Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
chronicled Horne's early life and almost fifty years in show business. It ran for fourteen months and became the standard by which one-woman shows are judged. Throughout the past twenty years, Horne's performances have been rare yet welcome occurrences.
In 1978, Horne returned to films as Glinda the Good Witch, in The Wiz
One of the achievements about which she is proudest is an honorary doctorate she received from Howard University
in 1980. "I had been offered doctorates earlier," she said, "and had turned them down because I hadn't been to college. But by the time Howard presented the doctorate to me, I knew I had graduated from the school of life, and I was ready to accept it."
And in 1984, Lena Horne was honored by the Kennedy Center
, recognizing her lifelong accomplishments and extraordinary talents of one of our nation's most prestigious artists. The Honors are America's equivalent of a knighthood in Britain, or the French Legion of Honor -- the quintessential reward for a lifetime's endeavor.http://kennedy-center.org/programs/specialevents/honors/history/honoree/lhorne.htmlhttp://www.classicmoviemusicals.com/horne.htmhttp://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/horne_l.html