Lena Horne – described as a beautiful American singer, actress and dancer – was born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. and died on May 9, 2010, in New York City. Ms. Horne was born to parents of African-American, European-American, and Native American heritage. Ms. Horne was classified as black (African-American). She had two children by her first marriage, which ended in divorce. Her second marriage (to a Jewish American) ended in a separation, allegedly because of pressures she and her husband experienced as an interracial couple.
“Don’t know why/There’s no sun up in the sky/Stormy weather/since my man and I ain’t together/Keeps rainin’ all the time…”
Although Ms. Horne was the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio (MGM), she “was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for states where theaters could not show films with black performers” interacting with non-black performers (as equals). Production codes banned interracial relationships in films. The film “Cabin In the Sky,” in which Ms. Horne appeared, escaped race-related editing because it had an all-black cast.
Ms. Horne was politically active. It is reported that she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African-American servicemen” during World War II. The army refused to allow integrated audiences of American blacks and American whites at that time.
“Life is bare/Gloom and misery everywhere/Stormy weather/Just can’t get my poor self together/I’m weary all the time/the time. So weary all the time… “
During the Red Scare of the 50s, Ms. Horne was blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood because of her “left-leaning political views.” She participated in the March on Washington in 1963, spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
“I walk around/heavy-hearted and sad/Night comes around/I’m still feelin’ bad…”
When reporting Ms. Horne’s death, the media played excerpts of Ms. Horne singing “Stormy Weather.” Unlike the lyrics of the song that suggest the singer is overwhelmed, (“Can’t go on/Everything I had is gone…”), Ms. Horne remained energized, committed to civil rights and entertaining beyond the year 2000 in front of audiences and entertainers of various colors. Ms. Horne’s beauty went far beyond her skin.
(*The name of a song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, sung by the late Lena Horne; also the name of the movie in which she appeared.)