People we love: Lena Horne

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010

Born on this day in 1917.

Lena Horne was an American singer, actress, dancer and civil rights activist. At the age of 16 she joined the chorus at the Cotton Club in New York City, later moving to Hollywood.

Horne’s family was a mix of European American, Native American and African American. Because of that she was never featured in a leading role in Hollywood. Films featuring her had to be re-edited for states where theaters would now show films with black performers. But she appeared in a number of MGM musicals including Cabin in the Sky.

Ironically she was not cast in the role of Julie LaVerne in MCM’s 1951 version of Show Boat because of the ban on interracial relationships on film. She lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner. During the Red Scare, Horn was blacklisted and not able to work in Hollywood. She went back to performing in nightclubs and later took part in the 1963 March on Washington.

From the late 1950s through the 1960s she appeared on television variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Andy Williams Show. She also appeared on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Sandford and Son.

In her last film performance, Horne played Glinda in the film version of The Wiz. She took her one woman show “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music” to Broadway in 1981. Her fourteen month run received rave reviews and garnered her a Tony Award.

Lena Horne died of heart failure on May 9, 2010.

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