Legendary singer and actress Lena Horne, credited for breaking Hollywood’s colour bar, died Sunday in New York City. She was 92.
A spokeswoman from New York-Presbyterian Hospital confirmed Lorne’s death but wouldn’t release any other details.
Horne often noted her success was a great source of frustration. She never reached the heights of Hollywood fame she was capable of because of the colour of her skin, although she was also criticized for her light complexion, which was acceptable for white audiences at a time when black actresses were relegated to roles as domestic servants – parts Horne refused to play.
Horne’s storied career began at the Cotton Club in Harlem, where she joined the chorus line at the age of 16. Shortly after, she broke into film becoming the first black performer to secure a long-term Hollywood studio contract with MGM.
She became best-known for her rendition of “Stormy Weather”, which she performed in the 1943 film of the same name in the role of Selina Rogers. She also starred in “Cabin in the Sky”, but in many of her other film projects throughout the 1940s and 50s her musical numbers had no bearing on the plot and could be easily edited out for audiences in the South.
She later noted that she hated Hollywood and felt very lonely.
Even during her film career Horne continued to perform in the New York clubs and during the 1940s she became one of the first black performers to sing with a major white band. She was also the first African American singer to play the Copacabana nightclub.
Her eight-week run at the Waldorf Astoria in 1957 spawned a massive hit for RCA Victor – her album reached the top 10 and was the best selling record by a female singer in the company’s history. She also recorded a number of albums in the 1990s.
Horne’s involvement in the civil rights movement began early. Her grandmother enrolled her in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when she was two-years-old. She wasn’t active in the movement until her late 20s. Horne was angered when she was performing at an Army Base and saw black American soldiers seated behind German prisoners of war. She reportedly stormed off the stage.
Her fight against racism saw her branded a communist in the 1950s and by the 1960s she was one of the best-known celebrities in the civil rights movement.
Horne married twice. She tied the knot the first time at age 19 with Louis Jones, but their relationship ended in 1944. The pair had a daughter, Gail, and son Teddy.
She then married white composer Lennie Hayton in 1947. The union was kept secret for three years.
Her father, her son and husband all died in 1970 and 1971, prompting the singer to go into seclusion.
In 1981 she hit the Broadway stage again in her autobiographical “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music”, which won her a Tony.