Curtains For Lena Horne At 92

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[In Memory]

Lena Horne, who died on May 9 at age 92 began her storied career in 1933 when she joined the chorus line at The Cotton Club in New York City.

She was a icon amongst Hollywood actresses who opened doors, and broke down racial barriers in Hollywood; she died in New York City while hospitalized at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

In 1934 she had a feature role in the film The Cotton Club Parade. Later in the decade she was a featured vocalist in NBC's well received jazz series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. However, Horne left the show after only six months to headline a nightclub revue on the west coast.

Horne later went on to sign with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the most prestigious movie studio at the time, becoming became the first Black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, in which she made her debut in the 1942 MGM film "Panama Hattie."

Horne made her most notable film appearance in the 1943 all Black musical film "Cabin In The Sky". Horne however wasn't spared the racial discrimination of the time and was never featured in a leading role because of her race and films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with Black performers.

Again, in 1951 the color of her skin was held against her when she tried for the role of Julie LaVerne in "Showboat," in which the role went to Ava Gardener, due to the fact that film executives didn't agree with the notion of interracial relationships being depicted in film at the time. By the 1950s Horne had become more focused on her nightclub career; she did make occasional film appearances such as in "Duchess of Idaho," and "Meet Me In Las Vegas."

However Horne was blacklisted by Hollywood for expressing her political views at the time. The 1950s did end on a positive note for Horne; in 1958 she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the musical "Jamaica." A live album, "Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria," became the largest selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA-Victor Label.

Aside from her contributions to elevating the status of African American women in Hollywood, Horne was active in the Civil Rights Movement. She refused to perform for segregated audiences or for groups where German POW's were seated with African American soldiers during World War II; however, she was forced to perform in front of a segregated audience of serviceman when the US Army refused to integrate the military.

Horne participated in a NAACP rally alongside Medgar Evers shortly before his assassination in 1963. Also in 1963, Horne performed at the March On Washington on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women.

Horne also worked with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. Horne decided to retire from show business in 1980, but not before performing at benefit concerts sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, of which Horne was a proud member, over a two month period as well as headlining a one year engagement on Broadway in her one woman show " Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music" which earned her a Special Tony Award in 1981.

Horne made her final concert performances at New York's Supper Club and Carnegie Hall in the early 90s and continued to perform occasionally until a few years before her death. Horne is survived by her daughter Gail Lumet Buckley, and granddaughter screenwriter Jenny Lumet.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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