Acrobat Music

Lena Horne, legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist, was born on 30th June 1917

Lena Horne, legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist, was born on 30th June 1917
Born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne in Brooklyn on June 1917, Lena Horne was of mixed African, Native American and European descent, and was part of the educated upper middle class black community, growing up in Pennsylvania. Strikingly beautiful and talented, she dropped out of education at 16 and joined the chorus line at New York's Cotton Club, later joining Noble Sissle's orchestra, and then Charlie Barnet, before tiring of the touring life in the early '40s. She worked in radio, clubs and revues, as well as getting a foothold in movies, and while working in a Hollywood club in 1943 she got an offer to join MGM, the first African-American to sign a long-term contract with a major studio. She hit the big time with her appearance in and rendition of the title song of "Stormy Weather", made while on loan to 20th Century Fox. She made a number of movies but never got a leading role because of her race - for example, she lost the leading role in MGM's screen version of "Showboat" to Ava Gardner because of the ban on inter-racial relationships in films. By this time, she had also fallen foul of the McCarthy-inspired Hollywood blacklist because of her outspoken political views on civil rights. Disillusioned with Hollywood, she turned back to her night club career, headlining at clubs and hotels in New York, LA and Vegas, and expanding her already hugely successful recording career with RCA Victor. By the late '50s she moved into TV and became a ubiquitous attraction for the next 20 years. In 1980, intent on retiring, she embarked on a farewell tour, but within a year she was back with a one-woman show in New York which ran for over 300 performances and was rapturously received. She continued to record occasionally into the '90s. Her contribution to the civil rights movement was substantial - as early as 1941 she was working with Paul Robeson to highlight racial discrimination, consistently refusing to play to segregated audiences, and maintaining her activity on behalf of civil rights campaigns throughout her life. She was a stylish and versatile singer, and ranks among the elite of jazz, big band, stage and movie performers of the post-war era. Acrobat has on catalogue an album of some of her work - for details click here.
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