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Sunday, May 16, 2010
Horne joined the mike 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. Owing to the Red Scare and her 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, all 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, and she would continue recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s until disappearing from the public eye in 2000.
Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City Reported to be descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of African American, European American, and Native American descent and each belonged to what W. E. B. Du Bois called "The Talented Tenth," the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated blacks.
Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne (died April 18, 1970 at age 78), a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade, left the family when she was three and moved to an upper-middle-class black community in the Hill District community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Edna Scottron, daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre troupe and traveled extensively. The young Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.
When Horne was five, she was sent to live in Georgia. For several years, she traveled with her mother.From 1927 to 1929 she lived with her uncle, Frank S. Horne, who was the dean of students at Fort Valley Junior Industrial Institute in Fort Valley, Georgia and who would later become an adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From Fort Valley, southwest of Macon, Horne briefly moved to Atlanta with her mother; they returned to New York when Horne was 12 years old. She then attended Girls' High School, an all-girls public high school in Brooklyn which has since become Boys and Girls High School; she dropped out without earning a diploma.
Road to Hollywood
In the fall of 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade. A few years later she joined Noble Sissle's Orchestra, with which she toured. After she separated from her first husband, Horne toured with bandleader Charlie Barnet in 1940–41, but disliked the travel and left the band to work at the Café Society in New York. She replaced Dinah Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. The show's resident maestros, Henry Levine and Paul Laval, recorded with Horne in June 1941 for RCA Victor. Horne left the show after only six months to headline a nightclub revue on the west coast; she was replaced by Linda Keene.
Lena Horne photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1941
Horne already had two low-budget movies to her credit: a 1938 musical feature called The Duke is Tops (later reissued with Horne's name above the title as The Bronze Venus); and a 1941 two-reel short subject, Boogie Woogie Dream, featuring pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. Horne's songs from Boogie Woogie Dream were later released individually as soundies. Horne was primarily a nightclub performer during this period, and it was during a 1943 club engagement in Hollywood that talent scouts approached Horne to work in pictures. She chose Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. In 1945 and 1946 she sang with Billy Eckstine's Orchestra.
She made her debut with MGM in Panama Hattie (1942) and performed the title song of Stormy Weather (1943), which she made at 20th Century Fox, on loan from MGM. She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 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, although one number was cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors. "Ain't it the Truth" was the song (and scene) cut before the release of the film Cabin in the Sky. It featured Horne singing "Ain't it the Truth", while taking a bubble bath (considered too "risqué" by the film's executives). This scene and song are featured in the film That's Entertainment! III (1994) which also featured commentary from Horne on why the scene was deleted prior to the film's release.
In Ziegfeld Follies (1946) she performed "Love" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Horne wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but lost the part to Ava Gardner, a personal friend in real life, due to the Production Code's ban on interracial relationships in films. In the documentary That's Entertainment! III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using Horne's recordings, which offended both actresses. Ultimately, Gardner's voice was overdubbed by actress Annette Warren (Smith) for the theatrical release, though her voice was heard on the soundtrack album.
Changes of direction
By the mid-1950s, Horne was disenchanted with Hollywood and increasingly focused on her nightclub career. She only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950's Duchess of Idaho (which was also Eleanor Powell's film swan song), and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. She was blacklisted during the 1950s for her political views. She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire Quintana in the 1969 film Death of a Gunfighter, Glinda in The Wiz (1978), and co-hosting the 1994 MGM retrospective That's Entertainment! III, in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio.
After leaving Hollywood, Horne established herself as one of the premiere nightclub performers of the post-war era. She headlined at clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. In 1957, a live album entitled, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, became the biggest selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA-Victor label. In 1958, Horne was nominated for a Tony Award for "Best Actress in a Musical" (for her part in the "Calypso" musical Jamaica).
From the late 1950s through the 1960s, Horne was a staple of TV variety shows, appearing multiple times on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour. Other programs she appeared on included The Judy Garland Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Andy Williams Show. Besides two television specials for the BBC (later syndicated in the U.S.), Horne starred in her own U.S. television special in 1969, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne. During this decade, the artist Pete Hawley painted her portrait for RCA Victor, capturing the mood of her performance style.
In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in the hour long Harry & Lena for ABC; in 1973, she co-starred with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena. Horne and Bennett subsequently toured the U.S. and U.K. in a show together. A very memorable appearance was in the 1976 program America Salutes Richard Rodgers, where she sang a lengthy medley of Rodgers songs with Peggy Lee and Vic Damone. Horne also made several appearances on The Flip Wilson Show.
Additionally, Horne played herself on television programs such as The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Sanford and Son in the 1970s, as well as a 1985 performance on The Cosby Show and a 1993 appearance on A Different World. In the summer of 1980, Horne, 63 years old and intent on retiring from show business, embarked on a two month series of benefit concerts sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta. These concerts were represented as Horne's farewell tour, yet her retirement lasted less than a year.
On April 13, 1980 Miss Horne, Luciano Pavarotti, and host Gene Kelly were all scheduled to appear at a Gala performance at the Metropolitan Opera House to salute the N Y City Center's Joffrey Ballet Company. However, Mr. Pavarotti's plane was diverted over the Atlantic and was unable to appear. James Nederlander was an invited Honored Guest and noted that only three people at the sold out Metropolitan Opera House asked for their money back. He asked to be introduced to Lena following her performance. In May 1981, The Nederlander Organization, Michael Frazier, and Fred Walker went on to book Horne for a four week engagement at the newly named Nederlander Theatre (formerly the Trafalgar, the Billy Rose, and the National) 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 cast recording of her show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. The 333 performance Broadway run closed on Horne's 65th birthday, June 30, 1982. Later that same week, the entire show was performed again and videotaped for television broadcast and home video release. The tour began a few days later at Tanglewood (Massachusetts) during the July 4, 1982 weekend. The Lady and Her Music toured 41 cities in the U.S. and Canada through June 17, 1984. It played in London for a month in August and ended its run in Stockholm, Sweden, September 14, 1984.
In 1981, she received a Special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which also played to acclaim at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1984. Despite the show's considerable success (Horne still holds the record for the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history), she did not capitalize on the renewed interest in her career by undertaking many new musical projects. A proposed 1983 joint recording project between Horne and Frank Sinatra (to be produced by Quincy Jones) was ultimately abandoned, and her sole studio recording of the decade was 1988's The Men in My Life, featuring duets with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joe Williams. In 1989, she received the Grammy Lifetime
The 1990s found Horne considerably more active in the recording studio - all the more remarkable considering she was approaching her 80th year. Following her 1993 performance at a tribute to the musical legacy of her good friend Billy Strayhorn (Duke Ellington's longtime collaborator), she decided to record an album composed largely of Strayhorn's and Ellington's songs the following year, We'll Be Together Again. To coincide with the release of the album, Horne made what would be her final concert performances at New York's Supper Club and Carnegie Hall. That same year, Horne also lent her vocals to a recording of "Embraceable You" on Sinatra's Duets II album. Though the album was largely derided by critics, the Sinatra-Horne pairing was generally regarded as its highlight. In 1995, a 'live' album capturing her Supper Club performance was released (subsequently winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album). In 1998, Horne released another studio album, entitled Being Myself. Thereafter, Horne essentially retired from performing and largely retreated from public view, though she did return to the recording studio in 2000 to contribute vocal tracks on Simon Rattle's Classic Ellington album.
Civil rights activism
Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with 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", according to her Kennedy Center biography. Because 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. 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, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Tom Lehrer mentions her on his song "National brotherhood week" in the line "Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek" referring (sarcastically) to her and to Sheriff Jim Clarke, of Selma, Alabama, who was responsible for a violent attack on civil rights marchers in 1965.
Tributes and re-releases
In 2003, ABC announced that Janet Jackson would star as Horne in a television biopic. In the weeks following Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" debacle during the 2004 Super Bowl, however, Variety reported that Horne demanded Jackson be dropped from the project. "ABC executives resisted Horne's demand," according to the Associated Press report, "but Jackson representatives told the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part." Oprah Winfrey stated to Alicia Keys during a 2005 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show that she might possibly consider producing the biopic herself, casting Keys as Horne.
In January 2005, Blue Note Records, her label for more than a decade, announced that "the finishing touches have been put on a collection of rare and unreleased recordings by the legendary Horne made during her time on Blue Note." Remixed by her longtime producer Rodney Jones, the recordings featured Horne in remarkably secure voice for a woman of her years, and include versions of such signature songs as "Something to Live For", "Chelsea Bridge", and "Stormy Weather". The album, originally titled Soul but renamed Seasons of a Life, was released on January 24, 2006.
In 2007, Horne was portrayed by Leslie Uggams as the older Lena and Nikki Crawford as the younger Lena in the stage musical Stormy Weather staged at the Pasadena Playhouse in California (January through March 2009).
Horne married Louis Jordan Jones in January 1937 and lived in Pittsburgh. On December 21, 1937 they had a daughter, Gail (later known as Gail Lumet Buckley, a best-selling author), and a son, Edwin Jones (February 1940 - September 12, 1970- kidney disease). Horne and Jones separated in 1940 and divorced in 1944. Horne's second marriage was to Lennie Hayton, a Jewish American 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.
In her as-told-to autobiography Lena by Richard Schickel, Horne recounts the enormous pressures she and her husband faced as an interracial married couple. She later admitted in an Ebony, May 1980 interview she had married Hayton to advance her career.
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.
Lena Horne died on Sunday, May 9, 2010, at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City of heart failure, according to her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by granddaughters Jenny and Amy Lumet, Lena Jones, Samadhi Jones, and grandsons, William and Thomas Jones. She is also survived by her cousin, John Burke Horne Jr., son of her Uncle Burke Horne, Sr. (dec.) On May 14, 2010 Horne's funeral Mass was offered at 10 a.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Thousands gathered to mourn the iconic singer, including Diahann Carroll and Vanessa Williams.
Awards and recognition
Lena Horne Grammy Award History
Year Category Title Genre Label Result
1995 Best Jazz Vocal Performance An Evening with Lena Horne Jazz Blue Note Winner
1989 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1988 Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female The Men in My Life Jazz Three Cherries Nominee
1988 Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Duo or Group "I Won't Leave You Again" Jazz Three Cherries Nominee
1981 Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music Pop Qwest Winner
1981 Best Cast Show Album Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music Pop Qwest Winner
1962 Best Female Vocal Performance Porgy and Bess Pop RCA Nominee
1961 Female Solo Vocal Performance Lena at the Sands Pop RCA Nominee
Year Organization Category Result Notes
2006 Martin Luther King, Jr.
National Historic Site International Civil Rights
Walk of Fame Inducted
1999 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Jazz Artist Winner
1994 Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award Songwriters Hall of Fame Winner
? Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Walk of Fame Star at 6282 Hollywood Blvd Honor (motion pictures)
? Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hollywood Walk of Fame Star at 6250 Hollywood Blvd Honor (recordings)
1987 American Society of Composers,
Authors and Publishers The ASCAP Pied Piper Award Winner Given to entertainers who have made significant contributions to words and music
1985 Emmy Award Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music Nominee
1984 John F. Kennedy Center for
the Performing Arts Kennedy Center HonorsWinner For extraordinary talent, creativity, and perseverance
1980 Howard University Honorary doctorateHonored
1980 Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Actress – Musical Winner Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1980 New York Drama Critics Circle Awards Special Citation Winner Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1981 Tony Awards Special Citation Winner Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music
1957 Tony Awards Best Actress Nominee "Jamaica"
The Duke Is Tops (1938)
Panama Hattie (1942)
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Stormy Weather (1943)
Thousands Cheer (1943)
I Dood It (1943)
Swing Fever (1943)
Boogie-Woogie Dream (1944)
Broadway Rhythm (1944)
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
Studio Visit (1946)
Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Words and Music (1948)
Some of the Best (1949)
Duchess of Idaho (1950)
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
The Heart of Show Business (1957)
Now (1965) (includes Horne's performance of the song Now!)
Death of a Gunfighter (1969)
The Wiz (1978)
That's Entertainment! III (1994)
What's My Line? (as Mystery Guest September 27, 1953)
The Judy Garland Show (as herself October 13, 1963)
Sesame Street (as herself, 1971)
Sanford & Son ("A Visit from Lena Horne," as herself, #2.12, 1973)
The Muppet Show (as herself, Syndicated, 1976)
Sesame Street (as herself, Episode 11, November 1, 1976)
The Cosby Show ("Cliff's Birthday" as herself, May 9, 1985)
A Different World ("A Rock, a River, a Lena" as herself, July 1993)
"Moanin' Low" (1942; A Victor Musical Smart Set)
Little Girl Blue (1947; Black & White)
Classics in Blue (1947; Black & White)
It's Love (1955; RCA)
Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria (1957; RCA)
Stormy Weather (1956-1957; RCA)
Lena Horne at the Cocoanut Grove (1957; RCA)
Jamaica [Original Cast Recording] (1957; RCA)
Give the Lady What She Wants (1958; RCA)
Porgy & Bess (1959; RCA) - with Harry Belafonte
Songs by Burke and Van Heusen (1960; RCA)
Lena Horne at the Sands (1961; RCA)
Lena on the Blue Side (1962; RCA)
Lena...Lovely and Alive (1963; RCA)
Lena Horne Sings Your Requests (1963; Charter)
Lena Like Latin [later retitled Lena Goes Latin] (1963; Charter)
Here's Lena Now! (1964; 20th Century)
Feelin' Good (1965; United Artists)
Lena in Hollywood (1966; United Artists)
Merry from Lena (1966; United Artists)
Soul (1966; United Artists)
Lena and Gabor (1970; Skye) - with Gábor Szabó
Harry & Lena (1970; RCA) - with Harry Belafonte
Nature's Baby (1971; (Buddah)
Lena & Michel (1975; RCA)
Lena: A New Album (1976; RCA)
Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music (1981; Qwest) - Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
The Men in My Life (1988; Three Cherries)
We'll Be Together Again (1994; Blue Note)
An Evening with Lena Horne (1995; Blue Note) - Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album
Being Myself (1998; Blue Note)
Seasons of a Life (2006; Blue Note; recorded 1994-2000)