Legendary jazz singer/actress Lena Horne died Sunday evening at the age of 92.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, June 30, 1917, Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, was the great-granddaughter of a freed slave. She was raised in a leading family in the black bourgeoisie.
Her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her 1986 book “The Hornes: An American Family” that among their relatives was a college girlfriend of W.E.B. Du Bois and a black adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Dropping out of school at 16 to support her ailing mother, Horne joined the chorus line at the Cotton Club, the fabled Harlem night spot where the entertainers were black and the clientele white.
Soon, a movie offer from MGM came after she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers in 1942.
Her success led some blacks to accuse Horne of trying to “pass” in a white world with her light complexion. Max Factor even developed an “Egyptian” makeup shade especially for the budding actress while she was at MGM.
Horne disputed the criticism and is said to have refused to go along with the studio’s efforts to portray her as an exotic Latin American.
“I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become,” Horne once said. “I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
When Halle Berry became the first black woman to win the best actress Oscar in 2002, she sobbed: “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. … It’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Horne passed away Sunday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Gloria Chin. [READ MORE]
Singer Alicia Keys has been cast to play Horne in an upcoming biopic about her life. The film is being produced by Oprah Winfrey and will likely evolve around Horne’s rise to fame after singing the hit song, “Stormy Weather” in 1943.
R.I.P. Lena Horne [1917 – 2010]