Lena Horne was not just a pretty face, but a legend not only of her time but the present too. She was a very successful singer, dancer, actress, and more importantly a civil rights activist.
Miss Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an African American, born on June 30, 1917 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Edna Scottron, and father, Edwin “Teddy” Horne were middle-class people and very educated.
Her father, Edwin, was a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade and left his wife and Lena when she was just three years old and her mother, Edna, was an actress that was always traveling to preform so Lena didn’t live in one place throughout her childhood. She spent a year with her maternal grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin, several years traveling with her mom, about two years with her uncle, Frank S. Horne, and moved briefly to Atlanta with her mom but she later returned home to New York when she was 12.
As a young girl she attended Girls High School (an all-girls high school) in Brooklyn, NY but at 14, she dropped out and did not graduate with a diploma.
When she was 16, against the wishes of her family, she was hired at the Cotton Club in NYC and that is when she began her career, she soon preformed in front of large crowds and had roles in the Cotton Club Parade where people like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and other very important people in the industry monitored her.
In 1934, Lena took vocal lessons and soon landed a small role in an all-black Broadway show “Dance with Your Gods” and from 1935-1936 she worked as a featured singer with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra and performed in places like hotel ballrooms and nightclubs. After a year she left Sissle and went so-lo.
In 1938, Lena soon found an interest in being an actress and landed a low-budget film in “The Duke is Tops” and “Boogie Woogie Dream” but went back to working as a nightclub performer until one day in 1943; talent scouts approached Lena and asked her if she would like to work in professional pictures. She signed with MGM (Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer) becoming the first black performer to sign a long-term project with a major Hollywood Studio. She moved to Hollywood and was featured in an episode of a popular radio series, “Suspense”, as a nightclub singer with a very long speaking role, this was only the beginning!
Lena found herself working as an actress but equally, some of the scenes were taped in a way that she could be cut out of the film so they could so-call appeal to white audiences. One in numerous roles as an actress in movies/broadways like, Stormy Weather, and Cabin in the Sky but she was still not treated equally. But that slightly changed when she appeared in “Stormy Weather” and “Cabin in the Sky” which were very popular it made some whites realized that some black performers in Hollywood had talent, especially Lena. But soon racism got in the way of her career again; she was often denied hotel rooms where she performed, and other unfair treatment which caused her to work on her music career once again.
During her time in NY she learned from Café Society Downtown and her childhood friend, Paul Robeson, about African American history, culture, politics, and much more so since then she found her love for helping the black culture and she felt like she needed to help unify and become the voice in the struggle for equal rights and justice for the African-American’s of the United States and that inspired her to become a civil rights activist.
As a way of getting the rights she and others deserved she sued numerous restaurants and theaters and she began to work with Paul Robeson in the Progressive Citizens of America, a group against of racism. She even gave money to entertain and the WW2 troops. She even assisted Lady Roosevelt in working on anti-lynching legislation. And in the 1960s she was involved in the American Civil Rights Movement, plus worked on behalf of the National Council for Negro Women. Amazing huh?
Lena’s acting career soon met a platoon while her music career continued to flourish. Nine years later, Lena returned to the screen again in the all-black musical “The Wiz” (1978), where she played Glinda the Good Witch’ which was her very last big-screen appearance, she stayed continued working on television, appearing in (1994) and “That’s Entertainment! III” (1994).
Lena Horne is still one of the most beautiful, most respectable women of all time and she will continue to be. R.I.P Miss Lena Horne (Passed on Mother’s Day, May 9th 2010)!!!
Sources: Wikipedia.com, notablebiographies.com