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Lena Horne, 1917-2010

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The Bronze Venus. Movie poster, 1944. Prints and Photographs Division (63B.4)  Digital ID: LC-DIG-ppmsca-05525
The Bronze Venus. Movie poster, 1944. Prints and Photographs Division (63B.4) Digital ID: LC-DIG-ppmsca-05525

The music world mourns the loss of singer, dancer, activist Lena Horne, who passed away in New York yesterday at the age of 92. The Music Division has a variety of items related to Horne in its collections, from portraits in the William P. Gottlieb Collection to materials in the collections of swing band leader Charlie Barnett and the National Negro Opera Company.  Read notes on the production of the film that produced her signature song, Stormy Weatherin the Katherine Dunham Collection in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia. See Lena Horne with the Tuskegee Airmen in the African-American Odyssey web presentation on American Memory. Read about her motion picture debut The Duke is Tops, reissued with her name above the headline as The Bronze Venus, in the web presentation Bob Hope and the American Variety Stage.

Last year, Representative Charles Rangel of New York put forward this resolution, co-sponsored by fifteen congressmen from nine other states in the U.S. House of Representatives:

Expressing the sense of Congress that Lena Horne should be recognized as one of the most popular performers of the 1940s and 1950s and for her outspoken opposition to racial and social injustice.

Whereas Lena Horne was born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York;

Whereas Horne left school at the age of 14 and took her first stage job in order to help contribute to the family during the Depression;

Whereas Horne began singing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club at age 16 and began performing on Broadway soon after;

Whereas Horne was 21 when she performed in her first feature role, `The Duke is Tops’, after having taken a number of smaller roles that were often all that was available to blacks in Hollywood at the time;

Whereas Horne was eventually signed with MGM studios, making her the first African-American to be signed to a long-term film contract, only to find that she was edited out of films that were distributed in the South;

Whereas Horne performed in `Cabin in the Sky’ in 1943, which is often regarded as the premier performance of her career; and

Portrait of Lena Horne, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. William P. Gottlieb
Portrait of Lena Horne, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Whereas Lena Horne continues to represent elegance, Hollywood glamour, wisdom, and the strength and determination of an entire generation of performers who struggled through racism and prejudice during the height of their careers: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that Lena Horne should be recognized for her achievements as a singer and Hollywood actress, for her contributions to the struggles for equality, and for using her celebrity as a catalyst for change.”

Comments (3)

  1. My mother used to do a couple of stars’ hair, that performed at the Apollo. I remember Ms. Lena as she entered backstage. She was a wonderful woman, who had smile like sunshine. And when she stepped onto the stage, the world seemed to spin at twice the speed of light. She was electric! And then I remember her at political functions as well in Harlem. She stood at every turn for equality and justice for all. Surely we have lost an incredible force of entertainment dynamo! Such a beautiful woman, for sure. But more than that she was the presence of human and emotional expression through music. Rest in peace Ms. Lena

  2. Lena Horne, along with a very long list of African-American musicians- artists of every art form; activists for social, economic and political equality and justice were the heroes/heroines in the Sims household. My dad, a native of Vicksburg, Ms. and my mother, a native of Chicago, IL played her music, watched her movies and television appearances with awe, admiration and love. My brother and I are blessed to have had Ms. Horne as part of the foundation of our lives. She will always be an inspiration, a wonderful human being, and an eternal icon for all Americans. She was the epitome’ of beauty- in every way. She will live in our hearts and memories forever. May she rest peacefully singing with angels and other like souls: Sammy Davis, Jr.; Satchmo; Duke; Lionel Hampton; Sara Vaughn; Ella Fitgerald….the list is virtually endless. With love and sadness at your departure from this life, may God Bless you, Lena Horne! 05-14-2010…David S. Sims, Sr./Kiilu

  3. theres so much i would lilke to say , making it short tho thank you for the art , i will always lookup because of you marcus we did have time in az, themusic help me through it love always

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