Actress, singer, and civil rights activist Lena Horne dead at 92
The song "Stormy Weather" has been sung many times. Written in 1933, it would be the song that would make Lena Horne a star of both stage and screen. The actress, singer, and civil rights activist passed away on Sunday evening in New York City at the age of 92.
Horne got her start in Harlem's fabled Cotton Club as a chorus girl. But her vocal talent and stunning looks were too great to be in the background and she would become one of the first Black singers to preform with an all-white band and the first Black actress to sign a long-term contract at a major movie studio. The N.A.A.C.P. celebrated this contract in its effort to get better movie roles for Black performers who were often relegated to play servants.
Horne was a woman who was not content to accept things as they were. In the 1960s, she became an outspoken civil rights activist, fighting for desegregation and the passing of anti-lynching laws. While touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Horne was offered much criticism of the way Black soldiers were treated. She also cites her involvement with the U.S.O. as a reason she was such a big star.
In a 1990 interview, Horne said, “The whole thing that made me a star was the war. Of course the black guys couldn’t put Betty Grable’s picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine.”
Her film credits include PANAMA HATTIE, THE DUKE IS TOPS, CABIN IN THE SKY, STORMY WEATHER, and THE WIZ. Arguably Horne could have achieved greater success in film but she did not enjoy the Hollywood system at the time and held much contempt for it. Many of her movie appearances were parts that could easily be edited out for showings in the South. Horne claims she was blacklisted due to her views and “unable to do films or television for the next seven years” after her contract with MGM ended in 1950.
In the late '60s, she returned to film, playing the love interest of, Richard Widmark, in DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER. Horne would only act in one other movie, 1978's THE WIZ, a film version of the all-Black Broadway musical based on The Wizard of Oz. But she never stopped singing, continuing to record into the 1990s.
Horne received a Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music which ran for 14 months and would find success playing herself on television shows like Sesame Street and The Cosby Show.
Horne would come to terms with her career and in her '80s she had this to say, “My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
Source: New York Times