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Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 - May 9, 2010) was an American singer and actress she plays herself in the "Sanford and Son" episode titled "A Visit From Lena Horne" (Season 2, episode #16) in 1973. Lena joined the chorus of the famed Cotton Club in Harlem at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the films Cabin in the Sky (1942) and Stormy Weather (1943). Due to the Red Scare during the 1950's and her left-leaning political views, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood.[1]

Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington in August 1963, and continued to work as a performer, both in nightclubs and on television, while releasing well-received record albums. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway and earned her numerous awards and accolades. She continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s, disappearing from the public eye in 2000.

Civil rights activismEdit

Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with actor/singer/activist Paul Robeson. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform "for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen",[2] according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because the U.S. Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs. Seeing the black soldiers had been forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where the black troops were seated and performed with the Germans behind her. She was at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the weekend before Evers was assassinated. She also met President John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated. She was at the March on Washington and spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-Lynching in the United States laws.[3] She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Tom Lehrer mentions her in his song "National Brotherhood Week" in the line "Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark are dancing cheek to cheek" referring (wryly) to her and to Sheriff Jim Clark, of Selma, Alabama, who was responsible for a violent attack on civil rights marchers in 1965.

In 1983, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

Horne married Louis Jordan Jones in January 1937 in Pittsburgh. On December 21, 1937, their daughter, Gail (later known as Gail Lumet Buckley, a best-selling author) was born there.[5] and a son, Edwin Jones (born February 7, 1940 – September 12, 1970) who died of kidney disease.[6] Horne and Jones separated in 1940 and divorced in 1944.

Horne's second marriage was to Lennie Hayton, who was Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM, in December 1947 in Paris. They separated in the early 1960s, but never divorced; he died in 1971.[7]

In her as-told-to autobiography Lena by Richard Schickel, Horne recounts the enormous pressures she and her husband faced as an interracial couple. She later admitted in an interview in Ebony (May 1980), she had married Hayton to advance her career and cross the "color-line" in show business, but had learned to love him in a way.[8]

Screenwriter Jenny Lumet, known for her award-winning screenplay Rachel Getting Married, is Horne's granddaughter, the daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet and Horne's daughter Gail.[9] Horne's other grandchildren include Gail's other daughter, Amy Lumet, and her son's three children, Thomas, William, and Lena.

DeathEdit

Horne died on Mothers Day, May 9, 2010, in New York City, succumbing to heart failure. Horne's funeral took place at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Thousands gathered to mourn her, including Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson], Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams, Lauren Bacall, Audra McDonald and Vanessa L. Williams.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Lena Horne - About the Performer | American Masters | PBS, PBS.com article, accessed December 18, 2011.
  2. Kennedy Center: Biographical information for Lena Horne
  3. Lena Horne biography
  4. NAACP Spingarn Medal
  5. Gail Lumet Buckley profile
  6. "Los Angeles Times"
  7. Telegraph obituary, May 10, 2010.
  8. Ebony magazine Journal references, 1980-05.
  9. Ella unenchanted goes to a wedding - Demme explores concept of family, Chicago Sun-Times article by Roger Ebert (pg. 81), October 10, 2008.]

External linksEdit

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