Lena Horne


Singer
Lena Horne

About

Also Known As
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, Helena Horne
Birth Place
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Born
June 30, 1917
Died
May 09, 2010

Biography

One of the greatest American artists of all time, Lena Horne endured more than her fair share of "Stormy Weather" as the title of her 1943 film and sultry signature song implied. Yet the chanteuse and actress - who possessed one of the most lush voices in the history of recorded music - broke down barriers, not only with performances of memorable songs like "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Black ...

Photos & Videos

Cabin in the Sky - Movie Posters
Swing Fever - Movie Poster
The Duke Is Tops - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Louis Jones
Husband
Father of Horne's two children.
Lennie Hayton
Husband
Music director. Worked on many MGM musicals of the 1940s; white; married in Paris, France in 1947; separated in the 1960s; died in 1971.

Bibliography

"Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne"
James Haskins and Kathleen Benson (1986)
"The Hornes: An American Family"
Gail Lumet (1986)
"Lena"
Brett Howard (1981)
"Lena"
Lena Horne and Richard Schickel (1965)

Notes

Horne received an honorary degree from Fordham University in 1997

Horne received an honorary degree from Yale in 1998.

Biography

One of the greatest American artists of all time, Lena Horne endured more than her fair share of "Stormy Weather" as the title of her 1943 film and sultry signature song implied. Yet the chanteuse and actress - who possessed one of the most lush voices in the history of recorded music - broke down barriers, not only with performances of memorable songs like "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Black Coffee," but also for speaking out about the prejudice she experienced during her early years as a contract player at MGM and the subsequent hardships she experienced throughout her time in the entertainment business. The recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984, the elegant actress was a legend with a cause. Horne sang her pain, acted through intolerance, and fought long and hard to erase color lines.

Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 30, 1917 to Edwin "Teddy" Horne and Edna Scottron. After her parents separated, the young Horne moved in with her paternal grandparents and uncle. She was exposed as a child to the fight for civil and women's rights as her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Urban League, and Suffragette organizations and it was she who often brought her granddaughter to meetings. Horne's fair-skinned mother Edna was a singer and dancer in various drama troupes, and started bringing her daughter on tour when she was six. They moved around frequently due to Edna's career, and Horne often stayed with relatives or family friends, such as two women from Macon, GA who taught her southern-style cooking as well as instructing her in the Bible. The youngster reunited with her father while she was living in Fort Valley with her uncle. After years of going from city to city, Horne and her mother settled back to New York when she was 12 years old.

Four years after moving back home, Horne began her career as a dancer at Harlem's legendary Cotton Club, earning $25 a week. There, she was introduced to the growing community of jazz performers, including Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Harold Arlen, who would go on to write her biggest hit, "Stormy Weather." She also discovered her vocal talent was on par with professional performers, so it was not long before the young girl made her recording debut with Noble Sissle's band in 1936. Horne made history in 1940 when she toured with Charlie Barnet's band - the first African-American to do so with an all-white band. While changing the face of the music industry, Horne also made waves as a theatrical performer. She made her first Broadway appearance in the 1939 musical "Blackbirds" and later received her best reviews for her performance in a 1957 production of "Jamaica."

In 1942, two years after she toured with Barnet's band, Horne rewrote history again when she became the first black performer to receive a contract from a major film studio. Discovered by a talent agent while performing at the Cotton Club, MGM gave the talented songstress various musical projects, including "Panama Hattie" (1942), where she had an uncredited role as a nightclub singer. Horne's appearance in the film, however brief, was widely regarded as the best aspect of the entire film. Impressed with her onscreen appeal, MGM gave her a bigger role in their all-star revue, "Thousands Cheer" (1943), where Horne sang another one of her most famous numbers, "Honeysuckle Rose." However, although she was signed to the most revered and powerful movie studio and lacked nothing in the way of beauty, style and talent, Horne's skin color remained an issue for moviegoers throughout most of the country at that time. Because of this perspective, her film roles were often kept to minor characters or shot separately, so she was edited out for versions shown to Southern moviegoers who could not accept black performers playing anything other than servants or sidekicks. Getting edited out in certain versions of her films was the lesser of two evils for Horne, who stipulated in her MGM contract that she would not get such stereotypical roles.

The studio capitalized on Horne's skin color much more than recognizing her true talent. Iconic makeup company Max Factor even invented the "Little Egyptian" makeup line for the star to highlight her dark features. MGM also loaned the actress to another studio - 20th Century Fox - for its all-star, all-black musical "Stormy Weather" in 1943. Singing the title song gave Horne her signature number that would remain the song most closely associated with the star. It was also her first real acting role. "In every other film I just sang a song or two," Horne later remembered. "'Stormy Weather' and 'Cabin In the Sky' were the only movies in which I played a character who was involved in the plot." By the mid-1940s, Horne was the highest paid black performer in the country. Her renditions of "Deed I Do," "As Long as I Live," and Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things" became instant classics. Thousands of black soldiers abroad during World War II had Horne's photos pinned up above their bunks. She had one last film appearance, singing "Baby Come Out of the Clouds" in "Duchess of Idaho" (1950), before Horne became an unfortunate target of that era's biggest political and cultural dilemma.

Hollywood and politics clashed in the early 1950s when the Joseph McCarthy congressional hearings resulted in the blacklisting of several performers, including Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Gypsy Rose Lee. Horne, who had been politically active since she was a young girl, accompanying her grandmother to NAACP meetings, was now suddenly blacklisted as an adult for her participation in what was then considered "Communist actions." Not surprisingly, her film career was put on hold. Instead, the hardworking entertainer refocused and spent her time singing in nightclubs and cabarets. It would take six years for Horne to return to Hollywood, where she appeared as herself in the comedy musical, "Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956).

After the decline of McCarthyism, her political involvement - particularly in regards to civil rights - intensified, with Horne continuing to be an active member of the NAACP. On Aug. 28, 1963, she joined 250,000 others in the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the historic day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that same year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination. Tired of always being offered throwaway cameo roles rather than starring vehicles in films, Horne decided she was done with Hollywood moviemaking. She instead chose to focus on her music and television appearances, where she was a favorite guest star on the talk and variety show circuit, including "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971) and "The Perry Como Show" (CBS, 1948-1963). Horne also appeared on TV specials hosted by her A-list friends Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, as well as the comedy hour "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (NBC, 1968-1973).

Music was always synonymous with Horne, and it was where she left her greatest mark. Her 1957 recording Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria became the best-selling album by any female artist in RCA Victor's history. The early 1970s proved challenging for Horne, who lost her father, son, and husband in the span of 12 months. She retreated from public life for a certain time, only to perform in CBS' all-star entertainment revues "That's Entertainment" (1974) and "That's Entertainment II" (1976). Horne also appeared as Glinda the Good in the 1978 film "The Wiz," an African-Americanized version of "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. It was her final feature film appearance.

One of Horne's proudest achievements occurred outside the entertainment industry. After having turned down numerous offers, the artist received an honorary doctorate from Howard University in 1980. Horne also made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1984 with her comeback show "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music." The Brooklyn native saw her name in the bright lights on Broadway once again as the one-woman-star of the autobiographical production that included such signature songs as "Stormy Weather" and "The Lady Is a Tramp." The show won a Drama Desk Award, a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards (for its soundtrack), and a rave review from the New York Drama Critics' Circle.

Fifty-two years after getting her MGM contract, Horne finally spoke out about the overt prejudice she had experienced with the studio when she was asked to co-host the 1994 special "That's Entertainment III." She accepted - but only if she could comment on her early years with MGM. That same year, she reunited with Sinatra in "Sinatra Duets" (CBS), and filmed her own special "An Evening with Lena Horne." Working only sporadically at this point, in 2004, she appeared as herself in the celebration of MGM's golden years, "The Masters Behind the Musicals." Out of the public eye for the next few years, Horne passed away on May 9, 2010 at age 92

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

That's Entertainment! III (1994)
Entertaining the Troops (1989)
Herself
The Wiz (1978)
Glinda The Good
Death of a Gunfighter (1969)
Claire Quintana
The Heart of Show Business (1957)
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
Duchess of Idaho (1950)
Herself
Words and Music (1948)
Till the Clouds Roll By (1947)
Julie in "Show Boat" number
Mantan Messes Up (1946)
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Singer in "Love"
Harlem on Parade (1946)
Broadway Rhythm (1944)
Fernway de la Fer
Swing Fever (1944)
Herself
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
Specialty
Thousands Cheer (1944)
I Dood It (1943)
Herself
Stormy Weather (1943)
Selina Rogers
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Georgia Brown
Panama Hattie (1942)
Herself
Boogie Woogie Dream (1942)
The Duke Is Tops (1938)
Ethel Andrews

Music (Feature Film)

Take the Lead (2006)
Song Performer
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)
Song Performer
The Family Man (2000)
Song Performer
Lolita (1997)
Song Performer F ("Stormy Weather")
Beyond Therapy (1987)
Song Performer
The Wiz (1978)
Song Performer ("Believe In Yourself")

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Entertaining the Troops (1989)
Other

Cast (Special)

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999)
Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice (1996)
Narrator
A Century of Women (1994)
Herself
The 36th Annual Grammy Awards (1994)
Presenter
An Evening With Lena Horne (1994)
One on One: Classic Television Interviews (1993)
Aretha Franklin: Duets (1993)
The Essence Awards (1993)
The 65th Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1993)
Presenter
The American Film Institute Salute to Elizabeth Taylor (1993)
Performer
More of the Best of the Hollywood Palace (1993)
Wolf Trap Salutes Victor Borge: An 80th Birthday Celebration (1990)
Broadway: The Great White Way (1989)
The 31st Annual Grammy Awards (1989)
Performer
From the Heart... The First International Very Special Arts Festival (1989)
16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (1989)
Performer
Jumpin' Jive (1989)
That's What Friends Are For: AIDS Concert '88 (1988)
Host
Carnegie Hall: The Grand Reopening (1987)
The Night of 100 Stars II (1985)
Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music (1984)
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1984)
Amazing Grace: America in Song (1976)
Keep U.S. Beautiful (1973)

Music (Special)

An Evening With Lena Horne (1994)
Song Performer
Jumpin' Jive (1989)
Song Performer ("Unlucky Woman")

Misc. Crew (Special)

A Century of Women (1994)
Other

Cast (Short)

Studio Visit (1946)
Herself

Music (Short)

You Do Something To Me (2000)
Singer
You Got Looks (1956)
Singer

Life Events

1933

Joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City at age 16

1934

Made her stage debut in "Dance with Your Gods"

1938

Made her film debut in "The Duke Is Tops"

1940

Toured with bandleader Charlie Barnet

1941

Replaced Dinah Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series "The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street"

1942

Signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, becoming the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio

1942

First film with MGM, "Panama Hattie"

1943

Made debut in a leading role in "Stormy Weather"; also performed the title song

1943

Had a lead role in the all-black musical "Cabin in the Sky"

1945

Featured in the musical "Ziegfeld Follies," where she performed "Love" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane

1950

Appeared in last film for six years, "Duchess of Idaho," starring Esther Williams

1956

Appeared in the musical "Meet Me in Las Vegas"

1958

Starred on Broadway in the Calypso musical "Jamaica"; received a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical

1969

Starred in her own U.S. television special "Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne"

1969

Returned to films playing a dramatic role in "Death of a Gunfighter"

1970

Co-starred with Harry Belafonte in the hour long "Harry & Lena" for ABC

1974

Toured England and the United States with Tony Bennett

1976

Gave a memorable appearance in "America Salutes Richard Rodgers," where she sang a lengthy medley of Rodgers songs with Peggy Lee and Vic Damone

1978

Returned to films after another lengthy absence to play Glinda the Good Witch in the all-black re-telling of "The Wizard of Oz," entitled "The Wiz"

1981

Starred on Broadway in the long-running one-woman concert show "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music"

1988

Recorded the album The Men In My Life, featuring duets with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Joe Williams

1989

Appeared as herself in the feature documentary, "Entertaining the Troops"

1994

Recorded an album composed largely of Strayhorn's and Ellington's songs, We'll Be Together Again

1994

Co-hosted the documentary compilation "That's Entertainment III," saluting the halcyon days of the MGM musical

1994

Made her final concert performances at New York's Supper Club and Carnegie Hall; a live album of these concerts were released the following year

1998

Released her final studio album, Being Myself

2000

Briefly returned to the recording studio to contribute vocal tracks on Simon Rattle's Classic Ellington album

2004

Appeared as herself in the celebration of MGM's golden years "The Masters Behind the Musicals"

2006

A collection of rare and unreleased recordings were released by Blue Note Records, Seasons of a Life

Photo Collections

Cabin in the Sky - Movie Posters
Here are a variety of original release movie posters for Cabin in the Sky (1943), directed by Vincente Minnelli.
Swing Fever - Movie Poster
Here is an original release Movie Poster for Swing Fever (1943), starring bandleader Kay Kyser.
The Duke Is Tops - Movie Poster
Here is a 1-Sheet movie poster from a 1940s reissue of The Duke Is Tops (1938), retitled The Bronze Venus and featuring Lena Horne in the promotional artwork. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Words and Music - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for the MGM musical Words and Music (1948). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Ziegfeld Follies (1946) - Love (Lena Horne) A relatively modest production number, in MGM’s three million dollar musical, based on the premise of deceased impresario Florenz Ziegfeld imagining the show he could stage with MGM talent, Lena Horne with an original tune by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, in Ziegfeld Follies, 1946.
Ziegfeld Follies (1946) - Love (Lena Horne) A relatively modest production number, in MGM’s three million dollar musical, based on the premise of deceased impresario Florenz Ziegfeld imagining the show he could stage with MGM talent, Lena Horne with an original tune by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, in Ziegfeld Follies, 1946.
Duchess Of Idaho (1950) - Baby, Come Out Of The Clouds Second leads John Lund (as "Doug") and Paula Raymond (his secretary "Ellen") in the audience as Lena Horne is introduced, performing Baby, Come Out Of The Clouds by Henry Nemo and Lee Pearl, in MGM's Duchess Of Idaho, 1950.
Swing Fever (1943) - You're So Indifferent Kay Kyser introduces the song, Lena Horne as herself, with You're So Indifferent, by Sammy Fain and Mitchell Parish, edited so that it could be removed by theater owners in the South, as was MGM's regular practice at the time, in Swing Fever, 1943.
Cabin In The Sky (1943) - Open, Free Will Credits and first scene from MGM's production of the Broadway musical Cabin In The Sky, 1943, starring Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, directed by Vincente Minnelli.
Cabin In The Sky (1943) - Honey In the Honeycomb Newly-rich Little Joe (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson) and Georgia (Lena Horne) arrive at the nightclub, where she finally does a song, "Honey In The Honeycomb," by Vernon Duke and John LaTouche, in MGM's Cabin In The Sky, 1943.
Cabin In The Sky (1943) - One Of Your Favorite Daughters The "Idea Men" at the "Hotel Hades" include Louis Armstrong, Mantan Moreland and Willie Best, led by "Lucifer Jr." (Rex Ingram), speaking to his father, then visiting the temptress Georgia (Lena Horne) in Cabin In The Sky, 1943.
Stormy Weather (1943) - No Two Ways About Love Bill Robinson and Dooley Wilson as soldiers home from World War One, celebrating in a New York club, the first song from Lena Horne as "Selina," a James P. Johnson composition, lyric by Ted Koehler, early in 20th Century-Fox's Stormy Weather, 1943.
Panama Hattie (1942) - Just One Of Those Things A stand-alone scene featuring no other cast members, so that theater owners in the South could remove it if they chose, Lena Horne as herself happens to appear at the club in the Canal Zone, with a Cole Porter tune, her first scene in her first MGM picture, from Panama Hattie, 1942.
Till The Clouds Roll By (1946) - Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man From the opening Broadway-show within-a-movie segment, a 1927 production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, Lena Horne in the role of Julie, and the song she was not chosen to sing in the next MGM version, from the Kern bio-pic Till The Clouds Roll By, 1946.
Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956) - If You Can Dream Frank Sinatra in his cameo at the slots, as gambler Chuck (Dan Dailey) and new-in-town lucky-charm ballerina Maria (Cyd Charisse) catch Lena Horne, song by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn, at The Sands, in Meet Me In Las Vegas, 1956.
Duke Is Tops, The - Lena Horne, I Know You Remember Lena Horne (as starlet "Ethel") sings I Know You Remember by Ben Ellison and Harvey Brooks, suitor "Duke" (Ralph Cooper) admiring, in The Duke Is Tops, 1938.

Trailer

Broadway Rhythm - (Original Trailer) A retired vaudevillian (Charles Winninger) clashes with his producer son (George Murphy) in this MGM Technicolor musical.
Words And Music - (Original Trailer) Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Perry Como perform the songs of Rodgers and Hart in Words And Music (1948).
Duchess of Idaho - (Original Trailer) During a Sun Valley vacation, a woman tries to solve her roommate's romantic problems in Duchess of Idaho (1950), starring Esther Williams.
Ziegfeld Follies - (Original Trailer) Legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld imagines the kind of Follies he could produce with MGM's musical stars in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) starring Judy Garland.
Cabin in the Sky - (Original Trailer) God and Satan battle for the soul of a wounded gambler in the musical Cabin In The Sky (1943) with performances by Louis Armstong, Ethel Waters and Lena Horne.
Swing Fever - (Original Trailer) A bandleader with hypnotic powers tries to train a boxer in Swing Fever (1943) starring Kay Kyser and Marilyn Maxwell.
Two Girls and a Sailor -- (Original Trailer) Singing sisters create a World War II canteen and become rivals for the same man in Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) starring June Allyson & Gloria DeHaven.
Meet Me in Las Vegas - (Original Trailer) A ballerina (Cyd Charisse) becomes a lucky charm for a gambler in Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956).
Thousands Cheer - (Original Trailer) An egotistical acrobat (Gene Kelly) joins the Army and falls in love with his commander's daughter in the all-star spectacular Thousands Cheer (1943).
Till the Clouds Roll By - (Original Trailer) Robert Walker stars in the true story of composer Jerome Kern's rise to the top on Broadway and in Hollywood - Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), co-starring Van Heflin and Judy Garland.
That's Entertainment! III - (Original Trailer) That's Entertainment! III (1994) presents more classic MGM musical numbers with a special look behind the scenes.
Panama Hattie - (Original Trailer) A nightclub owner in Panama takes on Nazi spies in Panama Hattie (1942), starring Ann Sothern, Red Skelton & Lena Horne.

Family

Edwin Horne
Grandfather
Lobbyist. Co-founded United Colored Democracy; helped raise Horne.
Cora Horne
Grandmother
Helped raised Horne.
Ted Horne
Father
Divorced from Horne's mother c. 1920; reunited with Horne in the 1930s; died in 1970.
Edna Scotchron
Mother
Actor. Member of Harlem's Lafayette stock company; divorced from Horne's father c. 1920.
Gail Lumet Buckley
Daughter
Writer. Born c. 1937 married to writer Kevin Buckley; formerly married to film director Sidney Lumet.
Teddy Jones
Son
Born c. 1940; died c. 1970 of kidney failure at age 30; survived by three children.
Jenny Lumet
Granddaughter
Actor. Gave birth to Horne's great-grandson c. 1995.
Jacob Cannavale
Great-Grandson
Born c. 1995; mother, Jenny Lumet.

Companions

Louis Jones
Husband
Father of Horne's two children.
Lennie Hayton
Husband
Music director. Worked on many MGM musicals of the 1940s; white; married in Paris, France in 1947; separated in the 1960s; died in 1971.

Bibliography

"Lena: A Personal and Professional Biography of Lena Horne"
James Haskins and Kathleen Benson (1986)
"The Hornes: An American Family"
Gail Lumet (1986)
"Lena"
Brett Howard (1981)
"Lena"
Lena Horne and Richard Schickel (1965)
"In Person: Lena Horne"
Lena Horne (1960)

Notes

Horne received an honorary degree from Fordham University in 1997

Horne received an honorary degree from Yale in 1998.

About her experience in Hollywood, Horne has said: "They didn't make me into a maid, but they didn't make me into anything else either. I became a butterfly pinned to a column, singing away in Movieland."