Happy birthday Lena Horne!

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Lena Horne (June 30, 1917—May 9, 2010) was an American singer, actress, dancer, and Civil Rights activist. She spent much of her career as a successful nightclub performer, but also appeared in film before being blacklisted for her political views during the Red Scare.

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Horne was born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne to Edwin Fletcher "Teddy" Horne, Jr. and Edna Louise Scottron in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York. Both of her parents were upper-middle class, of a mix of European, Native American, and African descent. Her father, a gambler, left home when Horne was just three years old. In her early childhood, she was raised by her grandparents.

When Horne was five years old, she moved to Georgia with her mother, who was an actress in a Black theater troupe. She went along with her mother as she traveled extensively. At twelve, Horne returned to New York and attended Girls High School in Brooklyn, but dropped out.

 

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After living with her father for a period in Pittsburgh, she came back to New York, joining the chorus line at the Cotton Club. She spent the 1930s and early 1940s appearing with various orchestras, including Noble Sissle's and Charlie Barnet's.

 

Horne appeared in the MGM film, Panama Hattie, in 1942. She was then marginalized to appear only in stand-alone sequences so that theaters that did not show films featuring black actors could play films without her sequences. She also lost the part of Julie LaVerne in Show Boat (1951), though having played the part previously, to Ava Gardner, because of the Production Code's ban on interracial relationships.

 

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As her disillusionment with Hollywood grew, Horne returned to her career as a nightclub performer. Touring the continent, she became hugely famous and in 1957, her live album, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, became the highest selling record by a female artist in the history of RCA-Victor.

In 1958, Horne became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony award for her role as Calypso in the musical Jamaica. She had been nominated for Best Actress in a Musical.

The 1950s and 1960s saw Horne appear in a slew of variety shows including Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour.

Horne was very active in the Civil Rights Movement, singing at Cafe Society and alongside Paul Robeson. She was outspoken in her disapproval of the way African-American soldiers were treated. She is quoted as saying, "So the U.S.O. got mad," she recalled. "And they said, 'You're not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.' So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl."

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Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Horne continued to appear on television, but had lost much of her place in the spotlight. But in 1981, she booked a four-week engagement at the Nederlander Theater. The show was a huge success, ushering her back into the spotlight and earning her a Special Tony Award.

Horne spent much of the 1990s recording studio albums. A 1995 recording of her live performance at the Supper Club won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Monday, 30 June 2014
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