Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917.
In the 1940s, she was one of the first Black performers hired to sing with a major White band.
The gifted jazz legend starred in the all-Black film “Cabin in the Sky,” in 1943.
“I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn’t work for places that kept us out … it was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world,” she said in Brian Lanker’s book “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.”
Horne dropped out of school at age 16 to support her sickly mother and joined the chorus line at the popular Cotton Club in
Harlem, New York.
In 1942, she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers and later received a movie offer from MGM.
She is mostly associated with the song “Stormy Weather,” where she is also known to be performing in the 1943 film “Stormy Weather.”
She won a Tony Award for her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.”
“I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become,” Horne once said. “I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
She was very involved in many social and political organizations.
She was married to Louis J. Jones, the pair had a daughter Gail and a son, Teddy. The marriage later ended in divorce in 1944.
Lena Horne died on Sunday (May 9) at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, she was 92.
ESSENCE mourns the loss of Lena Horne. With tremendous talent, striking beauty and grace, she persevered through the difficult circumstances of racial intolerance. She not only delighted us with her talent, but inspired us with her personal calling as an advocate for civil rights. Lena Horne is an American treasure and she lived life to the fullest with passion, purpose and responsibility.
—ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray