by Pharoh Martin
(NNPA)—Legendary singer, actress and dancer Lena Horne died Sunday night at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center at the age of 92. The Brooklyn-born entertainer was the first Black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio. She went on to achieve international fame as a singer. The cause of her death has not been reported.
Horne was the epitome of African-American beauty, and as a versatile and iconic performer made her name from a variety of entertainment platforms including the big screen, where she was the first African-American actor to sign a long-term contract to a major Hollywood studio; in music, where she won four Grammy awards, and in night clubs, where she extensively toured despite the racism that plagued her era.
As an entertainer, Horne’s light-skinned completion allowed her to entrance through doors that many other Black entertainers had a hard time walking through. Still, she was loved and highly respected because she refused to let herself become “an imitation of a White woman,” as she would later say.
Horne, whose striking beauty and magnetic sex appeal often overshadowed her talent and artistry, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success: “I was unique in that I was a kind of Black that White people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”
Horne got her start in entertainment as a 16-year-old dancer at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club and worked the jazz club circuit before jumping into movies with her major studio debut in 1942 with Panama Hattie. Horne’s success in movies helped pave the way for actresses such as Halle Berry and Dorothy Dandridge to become silver screen starlets and for crossover entertainers such as Diahann Carroll and Diana Ross to exist. But, more importantly, her pioneering roles helped open doors for African-American actors to rise above subservient roles in Hollywood.
|ONE OF MANY—Lena Horne accepts one of her many awards as friend Quincy Jones looks on.
Although born in a Black upper middle-class family, Horne spent her life cutting through the red tape of racism. Although she has 22 film credits to her name, her outspoken criticism of the unequal treatment of Black soldiers during World War II and her left-leaning political views and associations got her blacklisted from Hollywood for much of the 1950s.
Despite her absence away from the big screen, Horne went on become one of the most revered night club performers in the post-war period. During the movement for civil rights, Horne was an active participator in marches and protests, including the 1963 March on Washington where she spoke and performed.
Horne spent the last years of her life focused on her musical career. She released her last studio album, “Being Myself”, in 1998 on Blue Note records. She was 81 at that time. She received a Tony Award in 1981 for her one-woman Broadway show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music”.
She is being mourned in both the entertainment and social justice worlds.
“Ms. Horne was a pivotal figure in the entertainment world. She was a consummate entertainer whose dignified stage presence destroyed many of the stereotypes in which other Black entertainers of her era were cast. She was a cross-over success before the term was widely used. Although many have failed to fully acknowledge her civil rights efforts, Horne used the power of her celebrity to change the shape of racial discrimination in the United States,” said Dr. E. Faye Williams, national chair of the National Congress of Black Women in a statement. “Her life was genuinely iconic. The beauty and enjoyment that she brought to the masses with her entertainment will last far longer than many of the entertainers who followed her. She was a unique personality who will truly be missed.”
Quincy Jones, a longtime friend and collaborator, was among those mourning her death Monday. He called her a “pioneering groundbreaker.”
“Our friendship dated back more than 50 years and continued up until the last moment, her inner and outer beauty immediately bonding us forever,” said Jones, who noted that they worked together on the film “The Wiz” and a Grammy-winning live album.
“Lena Horne was a pioneering groundbreaker, making inroads into a world that had never before been explored by African-American women, and she did it on her own terms,” he added. “Our nation and the world has lost one of the great artistic icons of the 20th century. There will never be another like Lena Horne and I will miss her deeply.”
Lena Horne epitomized hot and she epitomized cool, said David Hinckley, Daily News
As an actress, she might be the most elegant vision that much of America never saw. For many years Hollywood didn’t think the country was ready for a Black leading lady, even one whose elegance and beauty could take an audience’s breath away.
Her tall-and-tan glamour and flashing brown eyes, not to mention a smile that could melt the polar icecap, turned her into the kind of screen goddess who would, in the phrase of the day, make a bulldog jump the fence.
President Barack Obama is mourning the passing of singer-actress Horne.
In a statement Monday, Obama called Horne a most cherished entertainer who warmed hearts with her beautiful voice and dramatic on-screen performances. The president also hailed her efforts to promote justice and equality.
(This story was contributed to by AP.)