Published on May 12th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was a singer, actress, dancer and civil rights activist. The iconic singer and actress’s career spanned six decades, helping to break down racial barriers for women of color in Hollywood. Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club 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 and Stormy Weather. Because of her race and left-leaning political views, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood. 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 as well as on television, while releasing well received record albums. Horne 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. Horne would continue recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s. This Top-Ten list is dedicated to the memory of the legendary Lena Horne.

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10. Classy, Intelligent & Beautiful

 

Lena Horne was a strikingly beautiful woman who always carried herself with class and dignity

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9. TV Star

 

Lena Horne appeared in several TV shows, mostly as herself, including, The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Sanford & Son.

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8. Motion Picture Actress

 

Lena Horne appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (1943), but was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers. As a result, most of Horne’s film appearances were stand-alone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky. Horne also appeared in several other movies including Stormy Weather, and The Wiz.

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7. Singer

 

Lena Horne had an impressive musical range, from blues and jazz to pop and soul.  Her first movie with MGM, she sang Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” winning critical acclaim. Other recordings by Horne include, “Love Me or Leave Me,” which was a top 20 pop hit, and “Stormy Weather,” which made her a star.

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6. Broadway Star

 

In May, 1981, Lena Horne did a four week engagement on West 41st Street in New York City. The show was an instant success and was extended to a full year run, garnering Horne a special Tony award, and two Grammy Awards for the recording of her show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. Horne’s performance on Broadway ran for 333 days, and closed on her 65th birthday, June 30, 1982. Horne still holds the record for the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history.

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5. Civil Rights Activist

 

Lena Horne was very involved with the Civil Rights movement. 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.” Since the US Army refused to allow integrated audiences, she wound up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black US soldiers and white German POWs. Horne 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, and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.

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4. Groundbreaking Pioneer

 

 In 1940, Horne became the first African-American performer to tour with a major white band, and the first to play the Copacabana nightclub. She was also one of the first African Americans to land a Hollywood contract. By not giving in to racial stereotypes, and by achieving success on her on terms, Lena Horne paved the way for countless African American women.

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3. Remained True to Herself

 

When Lena Horne was breaking into show business, Max Factor developed an “Egyptian” makeup shade especially for her. But she refused to go along with the studio’s efforts to portray her as an exotic Latina.

Horne once said, “My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”

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2. Awards & Accolades

 

Lena Horne received numerous awards & accolades including, 4 Grammy Awards, 1 Tony Award, and 1 NAACP Award. Horne also received 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She received one for motion pictures, and the other one for recordings.

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1. Touched The Lives of Countless Americans

 

Listed below are quotes by some of the Americans whose lives were touched by the great Lena Horne.

P Diddy – “RIP to the QUEEN LENA HORNE!!!!!  We thank you for all the doors that you have opened!  We love you! WE MISS YOU!”

Janet Jackson – “The passing of Lena Horne, a remarkable woman, is truly a great loss.”She brought much joy into everyone’s lives — even the younger generations, younger than myself. She was such a great talent. She opened up doors for artists like myself.”

Singer, Monica, “RIP to the amazingly talented Lena Horne. You have truly left your mark on the world. You influenced many with your style and grace.”

Alicia Keys  - “Wow! Lena Horne! What an incredible woman & story of triumph! May we all know that life is a journey of possibility as long as we hang on.

“CSI: NY” star Hill Harper wrote, “Lena Horne represented beauty, grace, intelligence & class. She opened doors for all of us who followed. May she rest in blessed peace.”

Quincy Jones – “”Lena Horne was a pioneering groundbreaker, making inroads into a world that had never before been explored by African-American women, and she did it on her own terms.” Our nation and the world has lost one of the great artistic icons of the 20th century. There will never be another like Lena Horne and I will miss her deeply.”

Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray –  ”Essence mourns the loss of Lena Horne. With tremendous talent, striking beauty and grace, she persevered through the difficult circumstances of racial intolerance. She not only delighted us with her talent, but inspired us with her personal calling as an advocate for civil rights. Lena Horne is an American treasure and she lived life to the fullest with passion, purpose and responsibility.”

 President Barak Obama – “Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Lena Horne – one of our nation’s most cherished entertainers. “Over the years, she warmed the hearts of countless Americans with her beautiful voice and dramatic performances on screen. From the time her grandmother signed her up for an NAACP membership as a child, she worked tirelessly to further the cause of justice and equality.  And while entertaining soldiers during World War II, she refused to perform for segregated audiences – a principled struggle she continued well after the troops returned home. Michelle and I offer our condolences to all those who knew and loved Lena, and we join all Americans in appreciating the joy she brought to our lives and the progress she forged for our country.”

Entertainment | Comments (7)


7 Responses to “Top 10 Reasons to Remember Lena Horne”

  1. Jeanette Davis ("Author") Says:

    Thank You Lena for touching our lives. May God hold your spirit in the comfort of His Hands.

  2. Shack Says:

    This may be the best listing of them all but you may not get as many responses because what can anyone add that hasn’t already been said!

    You all know my sentiment and zeal with remembering the great African-Americans of the past and some I’ve referenced in this blog such as Paul Robeson, Sidney P. Ella Fitzgerald and others with my self-designation as the “resident historian” of BlackTopTens.com

    You’re right Lena was classic and beautiful and as Leon will recall, was included in my own personal TT MosT Beautiful/Fine Sistahs of All Time.

  3. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Wow. What an incredible woman and loss. I’ve always liked her. This is timely. Great job Leon. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  4. Shonee Says:

    Best list thus far Leon. Lena was absolutely beautiful, she has not aged at all.

  5. Leon Says:

    Thanks Shonee!

  6. Trisha Says:

    Now I see what you mean’t. This could be the TopTen of all you will ever have in the BlackTopTens. Lena Horne was the ultimate example of a true legend. Her beauty was not only skin deep, her entire persona glowed becuase of who she was deep down inside.

  7. Leon Says:

    Trisha, I agree 100%.