Horne, Lena

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Horne, Lena

(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).

Horne, Lena (Calhoun)

(1917–  ) singer, actress; born in New York City. Raised by her actress mother, by age 16 she was dancing at Harlem's Cotton Club; with her stunning looks and electric voice, she soon became a popular singer with bands such as those of Noble Sissle and Teddy Wilson, and she performed in the musical Blackbirds of 1939. By 1938 she was making movies and she became the first African-American to be signed to a long-term contract (although her scenes were sometimes excised for distribution in the South). The title song of the movie Stormy Weather (1943) became her signature. She was blacklisted in the early 1950s for little more than her friendship with Paul Robeson and her outspokenness about discrimination, but she performed in the musical Jamaica (1957) and later made several movies. She toured Europe and the United States as a nightclub singer, spoke out increasingly against racism, and published her autobiography, Lena (1965).