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Lena Horne Biography

Updated on January 24, 2017

Early Years

Singer, Actress and Civil rights activist Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917 to Edna and Edwin Horne. At the age of three Lena's parents were divorced. Following the divorce, Lena's mother left her in the care of her grandparents, while she traveled with the African American theater troupe. When Horne was seven-years-old, her mother begun taking her on the road with her. During her school years, when she was traveling with her mother, her educational pursuits were interrupted. In 1933 at the age of sixteen, she joined the chorus line at the Cotton Club there in New York city. It was here that performers such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway mentored her and help her to adjust to life as an actress. As a result of their guidance and Horne's hard work, she became a featured performer by 1934. Lena knew her career was on the rise, so she took voice lessons. As a result of her hard work she was able to get a role with an all black Broadway show. Later in 1935 she was featured with the Noble Sissie Society Orchestra. This was a step up for young Lena; many of the places they performed were first class hotels and night clubs. However, in 1936 Lena decided to go solo, and perform in the New York night clubs.

In 1937 Lena married Louis Jones; from this union the couple had a daughter Gail and a son Edwin. However, the couple was separated in 1940, and divorced a year later. During the early 1940's, Horne gained stage experience when she was involved with the Lew Leslie's revue. Around this same time she joined the Charlie Barnet Orchestra as the groups only black member. Although she was treated well by the band, Horne suffered some humiliations from the hotels and restaurants that refused service to her.

1940's

With the arrival of 1941, Lena decided to leave the Barnet Orchestra and perform at the Cafe Society, there in New York City; at this place her life would be taken into a new direction. Lena learned about African-American history, politics and culture. In addition, her relationship with childhood friend Paul Robeson was re-kindled and she developed a friendship with Billie Holiday. Though her conversations with Robeson, she developed an interest in the civil rights movement. From that time forward, Horne became an active voice in the civil rights movement.

After a few minor roles in movies such as ' Panama Hattie ' and ' Harlem on Parade,' she would be destined for greater roles. In 1943 as a result of an extended series of performances at the Savoy Plaza Hotel, Lena was brought to national attention; she was offered a few movie appearances. Consequently, Horne was now the highest paid African- American actress in the United States. Lena signed with MGM movie studio for several years. For the 1943 movie "Stormy Weather," MGM decided to loan Horne to 20th century fox for the film. The movie did very well, and her performance of the movie's title song did well on the music charts too. Her next performance was the movie ' Cabin in the Sky.' In the movie, Horne was able to work with her idol Ethel Waters; her performance was regarded as one of the best of her career. Some other movies Lena was cast in included ' Two Girls and a Sailor ' released in 1944, and the ' Ziegfield Follies ' released in 1945.

During the second World War, Horne used her own money to travel and entertain the American troop serving overseas. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to enact Federal anti-lynching laws in the United States.

In 1947 she was married again to Lennie Hayton, her pianist, arranger and manager; because of racial pressure the marriage was kept secret till 1950. Although they separated in the 1960's, the two remained married until his death in 1971.

1950's and 60's

By the mid 50's Horne was growing tired of Hollywood; she begun to focus on her singing career. During the 50's Lena made only two major films with MGM, ' Duchess of Idaho ' and ' Meet me in Las Vegas.' However Lena was blacklisted for her political views; that didn't stop her, she maintained her visibility and continued to perform in Broadway musicals.

During the the 1960's Lena was active in the Civil Rights Movement; In 1963 she participated in the March on Washington and performed at rallies throughout the South. Though all this Lena maintain her visibility on television, appearing on variety shows; During 1969 Horne appeared in her own special and the same year she starred in the movie ' Death of a Gunfighter.'

1970's and 80's

The early 1970's were sad times for Lena; following the deaths of her husband, Father and son, she went into a period of depression related solitude. However, when Lena returned to public life, she seemed determined to live life to its fullness. In 1973 and 74 she toured the Unites States and United Kingdom with Tony Bennett. She continued to appear on various TV shows, including a light-hearted appearance on Sesame street.

The movie ' The Wiz ' was released in 1978, and in 1979 she performed at the Westbury Music fair in New York city. In the 1980's Horne had another major milestone in her career. A Broadway show was named in her honor, and it was the talk of the entertainment industry for over a year. ' Lena Horne The Lady and her Music ' won a Tony award and the sound track won two Grammy's.


1990's and beyond

In the 1990's she begun to slow down. However, from time to time she would do a tribute concert for old friends. At age seventy-six she released her first CD in a decade. The name of the CD was 'We'll Be Together Again.' Later in 1997 on her eightieth birthday, she was honored at the JVC Jazz Festival with a tribute concert. During the concert, Horne was given the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vocal Artistry. Later in 1999 once again Lena was honored at New York City's Avery Fisher Hall.

Lena Horne is truly an amazing woman.Though out her life, she was proud of her heritage and refused to compromise herself. The way she carried herself in both good times and bad, she did it with grace and dignity; it is not surprising she is considered a legend today. Because of her actresses and performers such as Hally Berry, Alicia Keys, and others could not have the successes that African-American actresses enjoy today. Lena Horne passed away on May 9, 2010; she will be missed, but her spirit lives on.

Comments

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    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Love love love Lena Horne! Everything about her. She raised the bar and the standards. She was a tough lady - no one could beat her down. She is from my town (Brooklyn) and I remember in the 70s when she gave her one woman show here in NYC - we all 'gasped' when she came on stage. This was a woman bigger than life - wow!!! I was so honored in my youth when people said I reminded them of Lena Horne. Yes!!!!

      Thanks for the tribute - rated up of course and bookmarked to share!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @BkCreative - I am glad you enjoyed this article. You are right this is one tough sister. It is nice to hear from you again :)

    • profile image

      PWalker281 7 years ago

      Wonderful hub, Coolmon. She's someone I grew up with and always admired. She aged so beautifully! Thanks for sharing this info about her!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @PWalker281 - I know watch you mean, she is quite a lady. Thanks for taking the time to read my article :)

    • justom profile image

      justom 7 years ago from 41042

      Loved her voice and loved her toughness just as much. I always think about Redd Foxx when I hear her name, he always talked about her!! Nice hub! Peace!!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @justom - I know what you mean, I remember that episode of Sanford and Son that Lena Horne made a cameo appearance. I am glad you liked the article, and thanks for taking the time to leave your comments.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Nice tribute to Lena Horne.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Sandyspider - Thanks for reading my article, and thanks for stopping by.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 7 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice job! One of my favorites.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Ralph Deeds - Thanks for your feedback, and it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This is one of several performers that I have heard of and maybe listened to for years but never really knew much about.I'll at least be more aware of who they are when I hear them on the radio

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @dahoglund - I understand what you mean. I have done that myself, Listen to a song I like for months or years and not know who I'm listening to. She was quite a lady. Thanks for stopping by, as always it is nice to hear from you.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image

      prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

      Cool, thank you, I always learn a lot form your hub, you always feature people worthy of praises and recongnition. Thumbs up, Maita

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @prettydarkhorse - Thanks for your feedback, and it is nice to hear from you again :)

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      A great tribute to a beautiful woman and person :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @billyaustindillon - She was quite a lady, thanks for your feedback :)

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 7 years ago

      Coolmon, Wonderful tribute to Ms. Lena Horne she was a remarkable woman of Color! Peace & Blessings!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @DeBorrah K. Ogans - It is nice to hear from you, and thank you for your feedback.

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Coolmon, What a beautiful soul Lena Horne was, she'll be missed. Peace :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @katiem2 - Thanks for your comments, and thanks for stopping by :)

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Lena Horne was a fabulous singer and you wrote a lovely tribute to her. Great hub.

    • profile image

      Nan 7 years ago

      Beautiful story for a beautiful lady. My mom and I went to see her on stage in Los Angeles, when I was 8 years old. I thought that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was another Elizabeth Taylor. Beautiful forever. Glad you told her life story!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Pamela99 - Thanks for your comments, and thanks for taking time to read my article :)

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Nan - Sounds like you and your mom had a good time. She is quite a lady. Thank you for your comments on this article.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Coolmon, I love your bio-hubs! I never knew that Lena Horne was blacklisted. Only knew her lovely voice.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Dolores Monet - Yes she was considered a threat for her political views back in the 1950's. She was quite the lady. Thanks for your feedback, and kind words :)

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      She was/is magic! Thank you again and again Coolmon!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Micky Dee - Thanks for the feedback, yes she was :)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      A really lovely tribute to a really lovely and brave lady. She was one of the greatest.

      Thanks so much for this great write up of her life.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @tonymac04 - Glad you enjoyed reading my article :)

    • ladyjane1 profile image

      ladyjane1 7 years ago from Texas

      Wow what a great tribute to Lena Horne she definitely was a talented lady. I was saddened to hear that she passed away but she lived a very long and successful life. I would be so lucky to live til Im 93. Great job on this tribute you always do such a good job writing about people. Cheers.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @ladyjane1 - Yes I agree with you. Lena's passing is a great loss to the world. Thanks for your comments.

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 7 years ago from Michigan

      Beauty is as beauty does. And Mrs. Lena Horne was definitely more than just a pretty face. I admire her strength and determination and as you said her integrity even in the hard times. Even in her 70's, her voice was as strong as ever. Mrs. Lena Horne, a legend indeed. Great article! Voted-up/rated.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Support Med - Yes she was one in a million. She will be missed. Thanks for your feedback :)

    • Kadmiels profile image

      Kadmiels 7 years ago from Florida

      Great hub on a legendary woman thanks!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Kadmiels - I am glad you enjoyed this article, and thanks for your comments :)

    • Stan Fletcher profile image

      Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Awesome hub....one of the most beautiful ladies with one of the most beautiful voices to ever grace the stage....

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Stan Fletcher - Yes she is one of the most beautiful ladies to grace the stage. Thanks for your comments on this article.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice Hub. Lena Horne's one of my favorites.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @Ralph Deeds - Thanks for your kind words and its nice to hear from you again :)

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Thank you for this hub , , ,it came at a time I needed inspiration, and Lena is inspirational. Two thumbs up!

    • Coolmon2009 profile image
      Author

      Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      @tsmog - Thanks Im glad you liked this hub :)

    Additional Information

    • Wikipedia.org - information on Lena Horne
    • Biography.com - More information on Miss Horne
    • Discogs.com - Lena Horne Discography

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