Remembering Lena Horne: A True Icon For Black American Women


By Victor Trammell

One of the most iconic women in the history of black America passed away approximately six years ago on this date.

In early May of 2010, Lena Horne passed away at the age of 92. However, four years shy of a decade later, is paying tribute to a true pioneer in the film, television, music, and stage performing industries. Horne’s illustrious career spanned over a period of more than 60 years.

She broke the color barrier in film, television, and on the live stage. Horne’s career was met with many obstacles when she began her path as a world-class singer, actress, and stage performer. One of the main obstacles she faced was deep-seated racism that prevented her from achieving a certain level of success.

In 1981, after being in show business for 40 years, Horne appeared on Broadway in a stage production called Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. The role she portrayed in this play was one of the most prolific of her entire career. The riveting play ran for more than a year and earned Horne a Tony Award.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, New York. By the age of five, she was living in Georgia with her mother, who was also a performer. Horne traveled alongside her mother on the road as she performed and learned the ropes of being an entertainer at an early age.

Horne’s career began in 1930 at Harlem’s Cotton Club, a historically relevant night parlor where many careers were born in the early 20th century. She was the first black singer ever to be the lead vocalist for Charlie Barnet’s band, which was all-white. Her first appearance in a movie was a cameo role in the 1942 film Panama Hattie.

In 1943, she starred in the films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. However, Horne’s political activism and participation in the Civil Rights Movement alongside fellow entertainer Paul Robeson got her blacklisted from the film industry.

However, Horne did not give up activism for her people or end her career as an A-list entertainer. By the time she retired from the entertainment business in the early 1990s, Horne left behind an unrivaled body of work that put her in a class of her own.

Black women on the rise in various facets of  society (particularly in entertainment) are forever indebted to Lena Horne for her lifetime of efforts, which she dedicated to making better opportunities for the generation of cultural icons who would come after her. She will always be remembered.


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