Lena Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010).
Lena was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent much of her childhood with her grandparents. She joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and in 1934 she landed a small role in an all-black Broadway show Dance with Your Gods.
In 1935 Lena became the featured singer with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra, which performed at many first-rate hotel ballrooms and nightclubs. She left Sissle in 1936 to perform as a solo singer in a variety of New York City clubs before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.
Due to the Red Scare and her left-leaning political views, she found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood. Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, she headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
From the late 1950s through the 1960s, Lena was a staple of TV variety shows, appearing multiple times on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, The Judy Garland Show, The Hollywood Palace and The Andy Williams Show.
Lena also starred in her own U.S. television special in 1969, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne. During this decade, the artist Pete Hawley painted her portrait for RCA Victor, capturing the mood of her performance style.
In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in the hour long Harry & Lena for ABC; in 1973, she co-starred with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena. Lena and Bennett subsequently toured the U.S. and U.K. in a show together. A very memorable appearance was in the 1976 program America Salutes Richard Rodgers, where she sang a lengthy medley of Rodgers songs with Peggy Lee and Vic Damone. She also made several appearances on The Flip Wilson Show.
Lena released around 32 albums over her career, famous for signature songs such as “Something to Live For”, “Chelsea Bridge” and “Stormy Weather”, and is a four time Grammy award winner, among her many other awards and honors. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the following year starred in a one woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway, and earned her numerous awards and accolades, Lena continued recording and performing sporadically well into the 1990s.
Horne died on May 9, 2010, in New York City of heart failure.