Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was a singer, dancer, actress, and activist whose 1957 live album entitled, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, became the biggest-selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA-Victor label. In 1958, this timeless beauty became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” (for her part in the “Calypso” musical Jamaica).
I’m proud to say that Lena and I are sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. which in the summer of 1980 sponsored a 2-month series of benefit concerts for Soror Horne. Sixty-three years old and intent on retiring from show business, these concerts were represented as Soror Horne’s farewell tour, although her retirement lasted less than a year.
In May 1981, her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music became an instant success garnering Horne a special Tony award, and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording. The 333-performance Broadway run closed on her 65th birthday, June 30, 1982.
In 1995, a “live” album capturing her Supper Club performance was released (winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album). In 1998, Horne released another studio album, entitled Being Myself. Thereafter, Horne essentially retired from performing and largely retreated from public view.
In her personal life, Lena Horne married twice, Louis Jordan Jones in January 1937 (divorced in 1944). There were 2 children from that union – daughter, Gail (later known as Gail Lumet Buckley, a writer) and son, Edwin Jones (born February 7, 1940 – September 12, 1970) who died of kidney disease. Lena’s second husband, Lennie Hayton, was Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM. They married in December 1947 in Paris and separated in the early 1960’s but never divorced. Hayton died in 1971.
Lena’s grandchildren include screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of Horne’s daughter Gail and husband filmmaker, Sidney Lumet. Her other grandchildren include Gail’s other daughter, Amy Lumet, and her son’s three children, Thomas, William, and Lena. Horne also has a great-grandson, actor Jake Cannavale.
Lena was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. During World War II she refused to perform before segregated audiences and at The March on Washington, she performed and spoke in association with the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Association of Negro Women. Ms. Horne also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to help pass anti-lynching laws. In 1983, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement from the NAACP.
From her beginnings at The Cotton Club at age sixteen through her appearances in films, television, and on Broadway, Lena Horne’s career spanned over 70 years. Back in 2012 there were rumors about singer Alicia Keys portraying Lena in a biopic. Sounds interesting. What do you think? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever happens.
In honor of what would be Lena’s 98th birthday, I’m featuring her most notable film:
“Stormy Weather” (1943) American musical film produced and released by 20th Century Fox
This movie blew my mind! I saw it as a kid in the early sixties having no idea that there had ever been an all Black cast in a Hollywood production. Most of the premier entertainers of the 1940’s appeared in this tour de force that still stands as one of the best musicals of all time!
|Directed by||Andrew L. Stone|
|Produced by||William LeBaron|
|Written by||Jerry Horwin, Seymour B. Robinson (story)
H.S. Kraft (adaptation)
|Music by||Harold Arlen|
|Editing by||James B. Clark|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||78 minutes|
“Stormy Weather” was the 2nd all Black cast film made by a major studio in the 1940’s. “Cabin in the Sky” was the 1st, produced by MGM. Lena Horne starred in both and became famous for her rendition of “Stormy Weather” although Ethel Waters first performed the classic at The Cotton Club Nightclub in Harlem in 1933.
The song was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler who worked as music composers at the renowned Cotton Club from 1930-1934. They wrote many of the jazz revue songs that were performed at the club and are still classics today. Harold Arlen wrote the music and Ted Koehler the lyrics.
“Stormy Weather” was selected in 2001 to The Library of Congress National Film Registry.
Get ready to have your “mind blown”! This dance sequence by the Nicholas Brothers is unreal. Check it out. Holy crap!!
Ethel Waters was a famous blues, jazz, gospel vocalist and actress. Her best-known recordings include “Dinah”, “Stormy Weather”, “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Cabin in the Sky” (She also starred in the film) Let’s enjoy her interpretation of the classic tune by Arlen and Koehler:
Happy Birthday, Ms. Lena!