Lena Horne, born in 1917 in Brooklyn, was the first black woman to make it big long term with major Hollywood studios as a “glamour girl.” She touched three generations through her life filled with pain and passion. Light-skinned with fine features, Horne set a standard that categorized many black women as not beautiful if they did not match Horne’s. Despite the labels pinned to her, she was actively involved in the civil rights movement and fought vigorously against segregation by refusing to perform in theaters where Blacks were barred from attending. Sometimes her personal life was like one of her songs, Stormy Weather. For years after her son, father and husband died in the same year, she said she became cold as ice, but she found something she shares with us that eventually rekindled the fire. I met her at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC. after a performance where I saw first-hand her beauty was more than skin deep. She died in 2010 at age 92.
In the 1930’s, Lena Horne performed at the Cotton Club in New York. She later joined Charlie Barnett and took to the road with his orchestra. In the 1940’s, she became the first black woman to sign a long-term contract with a major film studio, leading to roles in such movies as Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. She was blacklisted during the McCarthy era because of her friendship with Paul Robeson and her interest in the African Freedom movement. In the 1950s, she fought for the right of blacks to attend her performances. An interview with Horne appeared on the USA TODAY Inquiry page on May 27, I983.