Biographies - Lena Horne
Image Source: Wikipedia: Lena Horne
|Lena Horne |
|Born: June 30, 1917|
|Died: May 9, 2010|
American pop singer widely known as the first African-American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, namely MGM. She might be best-known for her version of the song "Stormy Weather", which was a hit in the 1940s.
Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917 and grew up in an upper middle class black bourgeois community. Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, who worked in the gambling trade, left the family when Lena was three. Her mother, Edna Scottron, was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron; she was an actress with an African American theater troupe and traveled extensively. Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.
Lena Horne made her film debut starring as "the Bronze Venus" in The Duke is Tops, a 1938 musical.After a false start headlining a 1938 musical race movie called The Duke is Tops, Horne became the first African American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, namely Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her debut with MGM in 1942s Panama Hattie and became famous in 1943 for her rendition of Stormy Weather in the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM).
She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a leading role due to her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be reedited for showing in southern states where theatres could not show films with African American performers. As a result, most of Hornes film appearances were standalone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, though even then one of her numbers had to be cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors.
Stormy Weather did feature Horne in a major acting role, with a more substantial part than what she had in Cabin in the Sky, but as noted, this was not an MGM musical. She was originally considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGMs 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but Ava Gardner was given the role instead (the production code office had banned interracial relationships in films). In the documentary Thats Entertainment! III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using recordings of Horne performing the songs, which offended both Horne and Gardner (ultimately, Gardner ended up having her singing voice overdubbed by another actress for the threatrical release, though her own voice was heard on the soundtrack album).
Disenchanted with Hollywood by the mid-1950s, and increasingly focused on her nightclub career, she only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950s Duchess of Idaho (which was also Eleanor Powells film swan song), and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. However it is important to point out also that, according to a PBS documentary, she was blacklisted during the 1950s for her political views. She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire Quintana in the 1969 film Death of a Gunfighter, Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz (1978), with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and co-hosting the aforementioned 1994 MGM retrospective Thats Entertainment! III in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio. During the mid 70s, she made an appearance on The Muppet Show where she sang with Kermit the Frog.
She appeared in Broadway musicals several times and in 1958 was nominated for the Tony Award for "Best Actress in a Musical" (for her part in the "Calypso" musical Jamaica) In 1981 she received a Special Tony Award for her show, Lena Horne: "The Lady and Her Music". She also made occasional TV appearances, such as a guest appearance as herself on Sanford and Son in the 70s and a mid-1980s performance on The Cosby Show. In 1989, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1994, she released the album Well Be Together Again featuring many songs written by her friends Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Included in this project is Day Follows Day a duet with Johnny Mathis. In general, Horne has been disinclined to record duets.
Horne is also noteworthy for her lifelong contribution to the Civil Rights movement. In the 1940s, she performed at Cafe Society and spent time working with lifelong friend Paul Robeson, another singer who was involved in work against racial discrimination. During World War II, when entertaining the troops at her own expense, she refused to perform "for segregated audiences or to groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen" according to her Kennedy Center bio. But she became more well-known during the Civil Rights movement, attending the March on Washington of 1963, and speaking and performing on behalf of the NAACP and the National Council for Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching legislation in the U.S. Congress.
In 2003, ABC announced that Janet Jackson would star as Horne in a television biopic (after it was rumored for years that Whitney Houston would take the job). In the weeks following Jacksons "wardrobe malfunction" debacle during the 2004 Super Bowl, however, Variety reported that Horne demanded Jackson be dropped from the project. "ABC executives resisted Horne’s demand," according to the Associated Press report, "but Jackson representatives told the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part." Oprah Winfrey stated to Alicia Keys during a 2005 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show that she might possibly consider producing the biopic herself, casting Keys as Horne.
In January 2005, Blue Note Records, her label for more than a decade, announced that "the finishing touches have been put on a collection of rare and unreleased recordings by the legendary Horne made during her time on Blue Note. Remixed by her longtime producer Rodney Jones, the recordings sound wonderful and include versions of such signature songs as Something To Live For, Chelsea Bridge and Stormy Weather." The album, originally titled Soul but renamed Seasons of a Life, was recorded in 1999 but remained unreleased for six years. The album was released on January 24, 2006.
Lena Horne was married to Lennie Hayton, a Jewish American, from 1947 until his death in 1971. Hayton was one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM. In her as-told-to autobiography Lena by Richard Schickel, Horne recounts the enormous pressures she and her husband faced as an interracial married couple. However, she later admitted (Ebony, May 1980) that she really married Hayton to advance her career and cross the "color-line" in show business. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.