Born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York, famed singer and actress Lena Horne was just 16 years old when she joined the chorus of the Cotton Club in 1933. After becoming a nightclub performer and displaying a tremendous amount of natural talent. Horne moved to Hollywood, where she set out to make a name for herself.
Horne not only found success in Tinsel Town, but she would ultimately go on to enjoy a career that spanned more than seven decades. Appearing in films, television shows, and theater productions.
Eventually, she returned to her roots as a nightclub performer, and in August 1963, she took part in the March on Washington. After participating in that historically significant civil rights demonstration. Horne continued to work as a performer both on TV and in the nightclubs while releasing a slew of critically acclaimed musical albums.
In March of 1980, Horne announced her retirement. But the following year, she starred in a one-woman show called Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. That show went on to run for more than three hundred sold-out performances on Broadway.
She followed that run up with a nationwide tour of the United States. Bringing her highly celebrated act to the four corners of the nation. In the process, she garnered countless awards and accolades.
Horne continued to record music and put out albums while performing periodically well into the 90s. Before eventually ducking out of the spotlight in 2000. Ten years later, she died of congestive heart failure at the ripe old age of 92.
There is no denying Lena Horne’s talent, drive, and gusto, but one of her most significant assets was her looks. Join Facts Verse as we take a look back at sultry photos of Lena Horne that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.
Lena Horne Destined For Stardom
Lena would be turning 105 this year if she were still with us – but in many ways. She never really went anywhere. Her memory is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of the countless souls that she touched and inspired throughout her incredible career.
She might have gotten her start as a nightclub ingenue. But she eventually became a champion of the fight for civil rights. Lena’s also remembered as being on of the most dynamic and tenacious performers of her generation.
But in order to get to the point where people were actually taking her seriously, Horne endured much hardship. Being a woman of color, she had to fight tooth and nail to get the respect that she deserved. Even once she had it, she had to fight like hell to keep it.
But not only was her professional journey one that came with many hurdles to overcome. But her turbulent personal life also proved to be a source of much torment throughout her years on this spinning blue rock.
Lena was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Both her father and mother’s sides of the family were African American. Although also with a mix of Native American and European ancestry.
She hailed from the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated black people. Her ancestors reportedly tied to John C. Calhoun, whose nephew Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun, was a slaveholder of people whose decedents include Horne’s family.
Lena’s dad, Edwin Fletcher Horne Jr, or ‘Teddy’ as he known, an owner of a hotel and restaurant. While, he was pretty successful, he was also a gambling man who ran a racket around town. When she was three, Lena’s father left the family after divorcing her mother and moved to an upper-middle-class African American neighborhood in Pittsburg.
When Lena was 18, she went to Pennsylvania to live with him before getting married a year later.
Lena’s mother, Edna Louise Scottron, was an actress who traveled with a black theatre troupe extensively throughout her formative years. Since her mother often away and her father left the family when she’s just a young child. Lena primarily raised by her grandparents, Edwin Horne and Cora Calhoun. Although, for several years, Lena did travel with her mother. During that time, she learned the ropes of the entertainment industry.
After moving in with her father in Pittsburgh, Lena spent five years learning music from fellow-Pittsburghers Billy Eckstine and Billy Strayhorn, among others.
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Lena’s Didn’t Want To Be A Stereotype
When Horne was 25, she told her father that Walter White, the head of the NAACP at the time, was urging her to seek out stardom in Hollywood.
While Lena sure that she would be able to become a movie star someday. Her father not very impressed by her lofty aspirations. Instead, he told her that he was going to buy her a house and hire a maid because. As he put it, that was the role she was going to inevitably play someday and that she might as well learn ‘what a real maid does’ to prepare herself.
Once she had made her way out to Los Angles, Horne managed to not let herself get typecast as a domestic worker. Instead, she became groomed by MGM head Louis B. Mayer and given a seven-year contract with the studio. In the process, however, she had to suck up to the Hollywood mogul and subject herself to the intinsic racism that permeated the industry at the time.
One day, Lena’s father, Teddy, barged into Meyer’s office and after first thanking him for offering his daughter a chance to work with the studio. Demanded that she not given demeaning roles as maids or other racially stereotypical roles.
Horne’s mother, Edna, who at this point was a failed actress, was extremely jealous of her daughter’s budding career. While Lena’s father showed up in Hollywood to be her advocate, Edna showed up in Hollywood for a very different reason.
She wanted to be given a career like Lena’s. And if Lena didn’t cooperate and somehow magically turn her into a star. She was ready to tell the press a story about a daughter who had climbed to the top on her mother’s shoulders only to toss her aside after achieving stardom.
While Lena obviously wasn’t able to just snap her fingers and appease her mother’s irrational demands, she did end up paying her off. Join Facts Verse as we take a look back at sultry photos of Lena Horne that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of.
Horne Relentlessly Fought Against Racism
Lena made her film debut in 1938s The Duke is Tops. Four years later, she appeared in Panama Hattie, playing a nightclub singer.
Even though she signed to MGM at this time, the films shot in such a way that the scenes she was in could be cut out when they were shown in the South. At the time, southern theaters refused to show movies where black performers depicted as anything but subservient to whites.
Lena hated the idea of appearing in such films, and really, who could blame her?
In 1943, she appeared in 20th Century-Fox’s Stormy Weather. The film featured an all-black cast and did extremely well at the box office. That same year, Horne’s rendition of the film’s title track became a major hit on the musical charts.
Also in 1943, Horne appeared in Cabin in the Sky. Which is widely regarded as one of the best performances of her career. Once again, the film featured an all-black cast and released to excellent reviews.
Her singing career began taking off around this time, while her acting career stagnated. Minor roles in films such as 1944s Boogie-Woogie Dream and 1948s Words and Music did little to advance her film career. But this was mainly because of the ingrained racist attitudes of the era.
Even at the height of her musical career, Lena was often denied rooms at the very same hotels she would perform at because they wouldn’t let black people stay there.
Then in the early 50s, she experienced another significant setback when her name appeared in Red Channels. A report that listed entertainers who supposedly had communist leanings. Because of this , for the next several years, she struggled to find work.
During this time, she continued to perform at nightclubs, but nobody in Hollywood would hire her for TV or film roles.
It later determined that she had been added to this list after performing at a club in Greenwich Village called Cafe Society Downtown when she was 23.
The club was New York City’s first integrated venue. And it was there that she got the chance to work with famed composer and jazz musician Paul Robeson who served as her mentor of sorts.
While neither she nor most of the club’s patrons knew it at the time. The establishment had involved in moving money for the Communist party. And while, she never had anything directly to do with this. Lena’s skin color and eventual prominence in Hollywood made her a prime target to singled out during the so-called Red Scare.
It didn’t help that she had also unknowingly joined a number of Communist groups that Robeson had suggested to her back in the 40s that were operating under the guise of being pro-black and anti-fascist organizations.
Despite all of these missteps, after being blacklisted in Hollywood. Horne subsequently disavowed communism and eventually managed to make a comeback. Before that, however, she spent many years working alongside the NAACP campaigning for civil rights. And in August 1963, she participated in the massive civil rights protests known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
After several years of not finding any roles, Lena returned to the screen in 1969s Death of a Gunfighter. She later appeared on-screen two more times in 1978s The Wiz and 1994’s That’s Entertainment! III – an MGM retrospective documentary that she hosted.
Horne died of congestive heart failure on the ninth of May, 2010. Thousands attended her funeral at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Among those in attendance were stars like Liza Minnelli, Donne Warwick, Vanessa Williams, and Leontyne Price – to name a few.
While we only got the chance to cover a small fraction of Lena Horne’s many career accomplishments. We’re regrettably just about out of time for this video.
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