Lena Horne, a pioneering actress and singer, died in her Brooklyn home yesterday. She was 92 years old.
Horne was born in New York City in 1917 and began her rise to fame as a chorus girl at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. As an African-American performer in the country’s pre-Civil Rights era, Horne was faced with the same problems other fellow African-American entertainer’s faced in show business such as performing in segregated venues and limited work.
She would later chip away at such barriers when Hollywood studio MGM signed her to a long-term contract, a first for an African-American. Besides Horne’s talent as a singer and actress, not to be dismissed was her striking beauty. To put it in a modern day context, Lena Horne was the Halle Berry of her day, especially during World War II in the 1940’s. As Horne’s New York Times obituary reports, Horne told a writer, “The whole thing that made me a star was the war. Of course the black guys couldn’t put [singer] Betty Grable’s picture in their footlocker. But they could put mine.”
Years before her death, talks of a Lena Horne biopic were discussed heavily. At one point, in 2003, ABC announced Janet Jackson was picked to play the role of Horne in a made-for-television biopic, but after Jackson’s controversial Super Bowl performance that year, Horne, along with her daughter Gail, requested she be dropped from the film. When ABC refused, Horne reached out to Jackson directly and the singer bowed out of the role. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey announced plans to produce the biopic of Lena Horne herself with plans of casting Alicia Keys in the role of Horne.
Horne’s rendition of the American songbook standard, Stormy Weather in the 1943 musical of the same name is considered to be her most famous piece of work. She also starred in the 1978 classic, The Wiz.
As “Glenda The Good Witch” in “The Wiz”