Lena Horne

Lena Horne, Singer, NYC


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Lena Horne

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Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (born June 30, 1917 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York City, New York) is a popular singer of African-American descent. She has recorded and performed extensively with jazz musicians (notably Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson), Billy Strayhorn, and Duke Ellington. She currently lives in New York City and no longer makes public appearances (JET, April 2007). She might be best-known for her version of the song "Stormy Weather", which was a hit in the 1940s.

Early career

Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917 and grew up in an upper middle class black bourgeois community. Her father, Edwin "Teddy" Horne, who worked in the gambling trade, left the family when Lena was three. Her mother, Edna Scottron, was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron; she was an actress with an African American theater troupe and traveled extensively. Horne was mainly raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.

After a false start headlining a 1938 musical race movie called The Duke is Tops, Horne became the first African American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, namely Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her debut with MGM in 1942's Panama Hattie and became famous in 1943 for her rendition of Stormy Weather in the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM).

She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a leading role due to her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be reedited for showing in southern states where theatres could not show films with African American performers. As a result, most of Horne's film appearances were standalone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, though even then one of her numbers had to be cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors.

Stormy Weather did feature Horne in a major acting role, with a more substantial part than what she had in Cabin in the Sky, but as noted, this was not an MGM musical. She was originally considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but Ava Gardner was given the role instead (the production code office had banned interracial relationships in films). In the documentary That's Entertainment! III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using recordings of Horne performing the songs, which offended both Horne and Gardner (ultimately, Gardner ended up having her singing voice overdubbed by another actress for the threatrical release, though her own voice was heard on the soundtrack album).



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