Thursday, February 27, 2014

The One Where Vic Blogs About Lena Horne

“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.” – Lena Horne

Forgive me for missing a few days of posts or posting late. Life sort of got in the way, but I have not forgotten to still honor those who have paved the way for me in some way.

When I was younger my grandmother, great grandmother and mother spoke of one woman, a singer and actress, with such admiration that before I'd even heard her first song I was in love with her.

Then I saw her.

Lena Horne.

She was beauty, poise, class, talent, intelligence, strength, an indomitable will, perseverance, drive, and for me the very epitome of black triumph and grace.

I fell in love with her music long before I knew her story and then I fell in love with her all over again.

Her passing grieved me but her legacy inspires me.

Please help me honor Mrs. Lena Horne.

“It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.” 
― Lena Horne


Actress and singer Lena Horne was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. She left school at age 16 to help support her mother and became a dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem. She later sang at Carnegie Hall and appeared in such films as Stormy Weather and The Wiz. She was also known for her work with civil rights groups, and refused to play roles that stereotyped African-American women.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of a banker and an actress. Her parents divorced when she was 3, and because her mother traveled as part of various theater troupes, Horne alternately accompanied her on the road and stayed with family and friends around the country.

Early Career

At age 16, Horne dropped out of school and began performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem. A few years later, she joined the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra, using the name Helena Horne. Then, after appearing in the Broadway musical revue Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939, she joined a well-known white swing band, the Charlie Barnet Orchestra. Charlie Barnet was one of the first bandleaders to integrate his band, but because of racial prejudice, Horne was unable to stay or socialize at many of the venues in which the orchestra performed, and she soon left the tour. In 1941 she returned to New York to work at the Café Society nightclub, popular with both black and white artists and intellectuals.
A long run at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel nightclub in 1943 gave Horne’s career a boost. She was featured in Life magazine and became the highest-paid black entertainer at the time. After signing a seven-year contract with MGM Studios, she moved to Hollywood, where she filmed movies like Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky. Producers quickly realized that she was a difficult woman to cast, however. She could only get limited roles in films with whites, and her light skin made it difficult to cast her alongside popular African-American actors in full-color films. Horne also refused to accept parts that stereotyped African-American women, and she was shunned by the community of black actors.

“I disconnected myself to shield myself from people who would sway to my songs in the club and call me 'nigger' in the street. They were too busy seeing their own preconceived image of a Negro woman. the image that I chose to give them was of a woman who they could not reach and therefore can't hurt.” 

― Lena Horne

Activism and Blacklists

By the end of the 1940s, Horne had sued a variety of restaurants and theaters for discrimination and become an outspoken member of the leftist group Progressive Citizens of America. McCarthyism was sweeping through Hollywood, and Horne soon found herself blacklisted. Since she was unable to work in film, television, theater or recording, she performed primarily in posh nightclubs around the country. The ban eased in the mid-1950s, and Horne returned to the screen in the 1956 comedy Meet Me in Las Vegas.

In spite of having been blacklisted, Horne remained active in the civil rights movement. She performed at rallies around the country on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council for Negro Women, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
In 1970 and 1971, Horne’s son, father and brother all died. Though she toured with Tony Bennett in 1973 and 1974 and made some television appearances, she spent several years mourning and was less visible.

Horne made her final film appearance in the 1978 movie The Wiz. The film was a version of The Wizard of Oz that featured an entirely African-American cast including Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, and Horne played Glinda the Good Witch. 

Later Career

In 1981 she made a triumphant return to Broadway with her one-woman show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. The show ran on Broadway for 14 months, then toured in the United States and abroad, and won a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award, as well as two Grammy Awards for its soundtrack.

My own people didn't see me as a performer because they were busy trying to make a living and feed themselves. Until I got to café society in the '40s, I didn't even have a black audience and then it was mixed. I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out . . . it was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world.
-Lena Horne

In 1994 Horne gave one of her last concerts, at New York’s Supper Club. The performance was recorded and was released in 1995 as An Evening With Lena Horne: Live at the Supper Club, which won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Though she contributed occasional recordings after this, she largely retreated from public life.

Lena Horne died of heart failure on May 9, 2010, in New York City.

Personal Life

Horne was married to Louis Jones from 1937 to 1944, and they had two children. She married Lennie Hayton, a white bandleader, in 1947, but they kept their marriage a secret for three years. They separated in the 1960s but never divorced.

(*Lena Horne. (2014). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 10:21, Feb 25, 2014, from *)

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30th, 1917. Her first big break was a chorus girl job at the Cotton Club in Harlem (New York City.) Horne would go on to tour with Noble Sissle’s orchestra (comprised of all black performers) and Charlie Barnet’s band (where she was the only black performer.) Horne catapulted to the spotlight in the 1940s and 1950s as one of Hollywood’s top African American performers. She signed a contract with MGM Studios in 1942 and starred in famous movies including the musicals Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.

During her movie career, Horne faced stereotypes and the racial discrimination that many actors of color faced during the 1940s and 1950s.

  • In 1933 during the Great Depression, Horne took a job as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club. She was 16 years old and hired less for her singing ability than for her looks. The Cotton Club thought her light skin and “good hair” would be more appealing to white customers.
  • Lena Horne and the rest of Noble Sissle’s orchestra were often forced to sleep on the tour bus because several cities they visited only had whites-only hotels.
  • When Horne traveled with Charlie Barnet’s band (as the only person of color in the band), restaurants would refuse to serve food to the entire band when Horne was traveling with them.
  • During a tour stop in Las Vegas, a hotel Horne stayed at reportedly burned the sheets she used after she checked out–rather than reuse them for white hotel guests.
  • Horne’s contract with MGM explicitly stated that she would never have to portray a maid.
  • MGM felt Horne was too light-skinned to play opposite other black actors, but did not want to put her in films with white actors, either.
  • Even though Horne was in movies with other stars like Gene Kelly and Lucille Ball, her scenes were filmed in a way where they could be cut out when the films were shown in movie theaters in the South.
  • MGM producer Arthur Freed asked Ms. Horne to act in his show, “St. Louis Woman.” When Horne refused because she felt the role was stereotypical and offensive, Freed retaliated by blocking her from other movie roles.
  • During World War II, Horne was asked to perform for the troops. Horne saw that the audience was segregated and that black soldiers were seated in the back–even behind white enemy prisoners of war from Germany. Horne caught flak from her producers for defying this unfair practice when she walked off the stage to the first row of black troops and performed with her back facing the the Germans, straight to the black American troops.
Horne also participated in the Civil Rights movement. She volunteered for the NAACP, was at the March on Washington, and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. After the 1950s, Horne concentrated on television work and eventually moved onto Broadway. Her 1981 show, The Lady and Her Music, won a special Tony award and two Grammy awards.


You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way.
Lena Horne

Lena Horne R I P  HQ Wallpaper

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