Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an iconic American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne career spanned over 70 years and was filled with everything you could think of. She appeared in film, television and theater while releasing over 20 studio albums. In 1942 Horne became the first African American performer to be put under contract by a major studio. She was a activist and fought with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. She then toured the country and the world, earning numerous awards and accolades. Horne continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s. The combination of Horne’s disarming talent and fierce individuality created a powerful force in breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood and beyond.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30th, 1971 in Brooklyn, New York. Horne is the daughter of a banker and a actress. Both her parents are mixed race with heritage from African Americans, Native Americans, and Europeans. Horne was pimarily raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.
Horne spent a short time with her grandparents when her parents separated when she was 3, after she traveled the county with her mother who was in various theater troupes. in January 1937, Horne Married Louis Jordan, a political operative. On december 21st 1937, Horne had her daighter Gail. On Febuary 7th she had her son Edwin Jones. Horne and Jones Seperated in 1940 and divorced in 1944. Horne got married to Lennie Hayon in 1947 in Paris. They faces much critisism being in interaccial couple. They serperated in the 60’s but never officially divorced.
At the age of 16, Horne dropped out of school and began performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem. She made her Broadway debut in the fall of 1934 when she performed in the production “Dance with your Gods”. After she joined Noble Sissle & His orchestra as a singer, this is when she began using the name Helena Horne.
Lena Horne photographed by Carl Van Vechten, in 1941
After 1934, Horne joined Noble Sissle’s Orchestra. She toured with them and it was during this time she made her first records, which were issued by Decca. It was after she separated from her first husband, she deiced to tour with bandleader Charlie Barret from 1940 to 1941. She left in 1941 because she disliked the travel. She left the band and decided to work at the Café Society in New York. She was a featured vocalist on NBC’s popular jazz series “The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street”, after replacing Dinah Shore. The show’s resident maestros, Henry Levine and Paul Laval, recorded with Horne in June 1941 for RCA Victor. Horne decided to leave the show after only 6 months when she was hired by former Café Trocadera manager Felix young to perform in a Cotton Club -stye revue in the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. It was a gig she couldn’t turn down.
By the mid-1950s, Horne was losing interest with Hollywood and decided to focus more on her nightclub career. She made only two major appearances for the studio during the 1950s. These productions were Duchess of Idaho and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. Horne states that the reason she left hollywood was becasue she was “tired of being typecast as a Negro who stands against a pillar singing a song’. After leaving Hollywood, Horne decided to establish herself as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era. During this time she headlined at clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. From the late 1950s through to the 1960s, Horne was a staple of TV variety shows, appearing multiple times on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Bell Telephone Hour
By the late 1900’s Horne’s career began to hit a downward slope. In 1995, a “live” album capturing Horne’s Supper Club performance was released, this ended up winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. In 1998, Horne released another studio album, entitled Being Myself. After the release of that album, Horne retired from performing and largely retreated from public view for the time being. It was not until 2000 that she returned to the recording study and contributed coal track on Simon Rattle’s Classic Ellington album.
1999 – Outstanding Jazz Artist
1997 – Society of Singers – Lifetime Achievenemmt Award
1995 – Best Jazz Vocal Performance
1994 – Songwritters Hall of Fame
1989 – Lifetime Achievement Award
1987 – The ASCAP Pied Piper Award
1984 – Kennedy Center Honors
1981 – Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female
1981 – Best Cast Show Album
1981 – Tony Awards Special Citation
1980 – Howard University Honorary Doctorate
1980 – Drama Desk Outstanding Actress – Musical
1980 – Special Citation
? – Hollywood Walk of Fame
? – Hollywood Walk of Fame
1988 – Best Jazz Vocal Performance
1988 – Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo or Group
1985 – Emmy Award
1962 – Best Solo Vocal Performance, Female
1961 – Best Vocal Performance Album, Female
1957 – Tony Award Best Actress
In 2003, ABC announced that Janet Jackson would star as Horne in a television biographical film. However in the weeks after Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” situation that happened during the 2004 Super Bowl, Variety reported that Horne had demanded Jackson be dropped from the project.
In 2005, her old lable Blue Note Records, releades a collection of rare and unreleased recording that Horne made during her time at the lable.
In 2018, a forever stamp, dedicated to Horne, began being issues. This made Horne the 41st honoree in the Black Heritage stamp series.