Lena Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010)
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. At 16, she joined the
chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer. She quickly left for Hollywood. She took on small parts in numerous movies before her breakout roles in Cabin in the
Sky (a 1940s musical) and Stormy Weather (the 1943 musical).
During the 1950s, Horne was blacklisted due to her political views. She returned to her nightclub beginnings and, in fact, established herself as one of the premiere nightclub performers of the post-war era, headlining at clubs and hotels around the world.
A long time supporter of the Civil Rights movement, Horne took part in the August 1963 March on Washington. She continued to perform worldwide in clubs, and on TV and released several well-received albums. In March 1980, she announced her retirement but in 1981, created a one-woman show that ran for over 300 performances on Broadway. She continued her career through to 2000 when she finally retired and virtually “disappeared” from the public eye.
She married her first husband Jordan Jones in January 1937. They had a daughter, Gail, who became a best-selling author and a son, Edwin, who died in 1970 of kidney disease. Horne and Jones divorced in 1944. In December 1947 Horne married Lennie Hayton. They separated (but never divorced) in the early 1960s; Hayton died in 1971.
On May 9, 2010, Horne died of heart failure in Manhattan, New York City. She has won 4 Grammys, an NAACP Image award, two Hollywood Chamber of Commerce awards, a Drama Desk award, a Tony award, a New York Drama Critics Circle award, an ASCAP Pied Piper award and a Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement award. Horne was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, received the 1984 Kennedy Center Honors and won an Honorary doctorate from Howard University in 1980. Horne was in 23 films, appeared in 8 TV series and recorded 40 albums. Ms. Horne is indeed a cultural icon.