Horne, Lena

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Horne, Lena

Lena Horne (Lena Mary Calhoun Horne), 1917–2010, American singer and actress, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Elegantly beautiful, Horne entered show business at 16 in the chorus line at Harlem's Cotton Club; she later sang there and was a vocalist with numerous bands. She debuted on Broadway in 1934 and achieved critical notice in "Blackbirds" of 1939 and 1940. In 1941 she moved to Hollywood and quickly became (1942) the first black performer signed to a long-term contract with a major studio and the highest-paid African-American actor. Nonetheless, her roles were usually limited to musical numbers, which could be cut if shown in the segregated South. Her rare dramatic roles were in two 1943 musical films with all-black casts, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, and she became famous for her sultry rendition of the latter's title song. Active in politics and civil rights, she was blacklisted from the stage and screen in the early 1950s, but continued working as a television actress and performer, nightclub singer, and recording artist, and returned to Broadway in Jamaica (1957). She also appeared in two more films, Death of a Gunfighter (1969) and The Wiz (1978). In 1981 she starred in a Tony-winning one-woman Broadway show.

See her autobiography (with R. Schickel, 1965, repr. 1986); biographies by B. Howard (1981), L. Palmer (1989), J. Haskins and K. Benson (1991), and J. Gavin (2009); G. L. Buckley (her daughter), The Hornes: An American Family (1986).

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