“My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
— Lena Horne
I had the good fortune of seeing Lena Horne do a test run of her one woman show as a benefit for my school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Her cameo in the movie version of the 1978 film adaptation of the Broadway musical “The Wiz” singing “Believe In Yourself” got standing ovations inside movie theaters. An ironic twist to her cameos being left on the cutting room floor in “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944), “Ziegfeld Follies” (1946), and “Words and Music” (1948) in movie theaters in the Jim Crow South.
Lena Horne made an appearance on the NBC hit series “Sanford and Son” in 1973. Though there are many star moments in her career, this clip shows the enormous pride and admiration of a generation for “The Horne” as my father called her: the first African American USA approved “pin up girl” during World War II, and the first African American to sign a long-term contract with a Hollywood studio. A great performer, and a great lady.
Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, NY. Her daughter Gail Lumet Buckley wrote a history of 6 generations of the Horne family (The Hornes: An American Family) in 1986, providing context to the sparkle and personal and social turmoils of her mother’s rise to fame in Hollywood and the rest of segregated America. [I’m not sure if this book is still in print.] During the politically murky 1950s, Lena Horne managed to get her self on all the lists: black and red. Her career as an entertainer was considered “finished.” It would take years for Lena Horne to fine her true voice as she revealed to Ed Bradley in a “60 Minutes” interview. In the 1940s, her voice was described as “honeysuckle.” Not the blues or jazz. Just sweet, smooth, maybe a little dip here and there. But after Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, and being out of the limelight for a stretch, that all changed for Lena Horne. She described herself as a “late bloomer.” The late great journalist Ed Bradley tagged his “60 Mintues” interview with Lena Horne his favorite.
Lena Horne joined the ancestors Sunday, Mothers Day, in Manhattan. She was 92.