Lena Horne (June 1917- May 2010)
1917 – Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York in a small Jewish Hospital. Her parents were Edna Scottron Horne and Edwin “Teddy” Horne.
1919 – October 1919, Lena Horne was the youngest member of the NAACP. Lena’s photo appeared in the October 1919 issue of the NAACP Branch Bulletin.
1920……. Her parents divorced, when she was three. Due to her mother traveling, Lena grew up in numerous places like Brooklyn, Bronx, Georgia and Miami.
1933……. Sixteen year old Lena starred in a Charity Show. She played the role of the bride in “Marriage via Contract” with the Junior Theatre Guild.
1934 – Started working for “The Cotton Club” as a dancer. Lena was in “Dance With Your Gods” show on Broadway as the Quadroon Girl.
1935 – Join “Noble Sissle Society Orchestra” as a singer and she had a tap dance routine. She went by the name Helena Horne.
1937…… Married Louis J. Jones. exactly 11 months later her daughter Gail was born.Lena later stated that she married Louis to escape the show business life.
1938 – Forced to go back to work because of financial problems, Lena landed a leading role in the all black musical “The Duke is Tops”.
1939 – Lena appeared on Broadway in the musical revue Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939.
1940 – February gave birth to her 2nd. child Edwin “Teddy”. Lena’s marriage to Louis Jones ended by the end of 1940. Upon returning to New York after breakup of her marriage, Lena became a vocalist with Charlie Barnet’s band. It was a well known white band and Lena toured and made a few of her first recording with them.
1940-41 – Lena went to work at the Cafe Society Nightclub. Barney Josephson wanted Lena to sing a Blues number during her set. Having a Jazz background and not Blues, Lena went to visit Billie Holiday backstage at the Kelly’s Stable Nightclub. Lena & Billie became friends after the first meeting. Lena was also dating Boxing Legend Joe Louis. Also, during this time Lena meets her mentor and bestfriend Billy Strayhorn.
1942 – Lena moved to Hollywood. Lena signed a 7 year contact with MGM Studios, she was the highest paid black actor at the time. MGM studios pointed Max Factors himself to create a make-up for Lena that would make her look darker it was called “Light Egyptian”. Lena’s career took off with her triumphant appearance at the Savoy Plaza Hotel nightclub engagement in New York City. She was featured in Life magazine as a provocative new singing star.
1943 – Lena’s had three movies released within the first 6 months: Swing Fever, Cabin In The Sky and Stormy Weather. She was also in Magazines like Time, Life and Newsweek. In the movie “Stormy Weather” the title song would later become one of her signature songs. She became the pin-up girl for Black G.I.’s.
1944 – In October, Lena was the first Black to appeared on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine.
1945 – Lena turned down the role in the Broadway show “St’ Louis Woman” that MGM wanted her to do and was placed on a long suspension. She is not allowed to perform as Julie in the Broadway revival of Show Boat even though composer Jerome Kern asked for her.
1947 – Lena hires a white manager, Ralph Harris, and he steers her career more towards live performing. She makes a triumphant debuts in London and Paris. She marries her mentor and conductor at MGM, Lennie Hayton. Lennie had worked for MGM as a staff composer, arranger and conductor. He was classically trained. In 1946 it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, so they decided to avoid the publicity and got married while in Europe. They kept their marriage a secret until 1950, only their families knew about the marriage.
1947 – A Blacklist was started in Hollywood – A large group of movie executives announced that Communists and other subversives would never “knowingly” be employed in Hollywood again. Lena was listed for her support of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee, the Joint Anti-Fascist Committee and W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson’s Council on African Affairs. Lena was considered, if not a Communist, as least prematurely anti-Fascist.
1948 – Lena had been active in politics for many years. Lena ended up supporting Harry S. Truman. Truman was grateful for her support and she was invited to sing at his Inagugural Ball.
1950 – Lena and Lennie formally announce their marriage while in France. Lena asks to be released from her MGM contract after only 2 movies in 5 years, mostly because of the suspension. Lena becomes a huge star in the United States and Europe on the nightclub circuit in the 1950’s.
1956 – In 1956 she re-signs with RCA Victor and in 1957 release one of her best and biggest selling LPs, the live album “At The Waldorf.
1957 – Lena gets her name cleared from the Hollywood Blacklist, with help from George Sokolsky. She was then able to work on television & movies again. Lena also began working in Las Vegas at the Sands. Lena starred in the play Jamaica on Broadway. Lena was making the TV circuit on shows like the Perry Como Show, What’s My Line, Tonight Show with Steve Allen and etc.
1963 – Lena temporarily retires from performing and becomes deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement with encouragement of her friend Dr. Jeanne Noble, president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Lena becomes an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta. Lena and other prominent Black Americans were invited to New York City to meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to discuss the crisis of race relations. Lena also meets Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. A week after meeting him, he was murdered. She participated in the March on Washington and performed at rallies throughout the country for the National Council for Negro Women.
1964 – Lena performs in her own TV Specials in the UK, later syndicated on TV in the US.
1967 – Lena’s longtime friend Billy Strayhorn dies of cancer.
1969 – Lena stars in her first US Special – Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.
1970-71 – Lena’s father past away, then Lennie died from a heart attack and her son Teddy died at 29 from kidney failure – all within 12 month of each other.
1970 – Harry & Lena – TV Special co-starring Lena and Harry Belafonte. Lena & Harry perform together in a show at Caesars Palace In Las Vegas that years.
1973 – Tony & Lena – TV Special co-starring Tony Bennett. Lena tours the show with Bennett in 1974-75.
1970-79 – Also during the 70’s – Lena did numerous TV appearance, concerts. Las Vegas, tour with Vic Damone. Lena releases one of her best albums entitled “A New Album” on RCA.
1978 – Returned to the silver screen as Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wiz”. (This would be her last big screen appearance.) Lena’s then son-in-law Sidney Lumet was the director of the movie.
1980 – Lena announces she will retire from show business and performs in a 3 month Farewell Tour sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta.
1981 – Lena reconsiders retirement and appears on Broadway in a one woman autobiographical show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. The show was a smash hit on Broadway. It runs for a year and closes on her 65th birthday in June 30, 1982. The show tours the US, Canada and UK through 1984. Lena receives a special Tony Award and a Grammy Award later that year. The program is video taped for PBS.
1984 – Lena is honored at the Kennedy Center with other luminaries such as Arthur Miller and Danny Kaye.
1988 – Lena returns to singing with an album called The Men In My Life. The men are Joe Williams and Sammy Davis Jr. who sing duets with her.
1993 – Lena signs with the Blue Notes label and records several albums including We’ll Be Together Again (1993), Being Myself (1998), Seasons of a Life (2006).
Lena gives one of her most spectacular live performances in a tribute to her friend composer Billy Strayhorn at Lincoln Center in New York.
1995 – Lena appears in an A&E special called The Supper Club. The CD of the show wins a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal. (The show was recorded in September 1994 & released CD 1995)
1999 – Lena made her last Major Public appearance at an all-star salute in her honor at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall.
2000 – Lena is the host of the Documentary “Then I’ll Be Free To Travel Home”.
2005 – Lena was one of the legends honored at the Oprah’s Winfrey’s Legend Weekend. Lena was unable to attend the three day event.
2007 – At 90 years old Lena is completely retired from show business and doesn’t do any interviews or public appearance. She lives in the Upper East Side of New York City.
2010 – May 9th – Lena Horne passed away at the age of 92 at New York Presbysterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.