I was going to get around to doing a post about the great Lena Horne at some point. It’s too bad that I’m writing it under these very,sad circumstances.If you have not already heard,Lena Horne has died at the age of 92. One of the most beautiful women to ever grace the earth has left it behind. Although she is gone physically,the mark that Lena Horne made on the world will grant her some measure of immortality.
For this was a woman who truly made a difference. She changed people’s perspectives regarding the types of roles that were suitable for black women to play. In the 1940’s, Hollywood was still portraying African-Americans as the homely-looking hired help. With Lena Horne, Hollywood began to realize that black women were comely women too. She broadened the roles for actresses of African descent.
And she didn’t just stop there. Lena Horne also was an avid civil rights activist. She took part in demonstrations & even helped Eleanor Roosevelt pass an anti-lynching law. This was no shrinking violet. Ms. Horne wasn’t afraid to wear her political beliefs on her sleeve. That’s why she was briefly blacklisted during the communist witch hunt which is better known as “the McCarthy era.”
Yes,Lena Horne was truly a womanly force. That’s probably why she disliked the moniker “chocolate chanteuse.” Because it really isn’t a accurate description of her at all. She was much,much more than a nightclub songstress.
Here’s more from The Washington Post:
“In Hollywood, she received previously unheard-of star treatment for a black actor. Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios featured Ms. Horne in movies and advertisements as glamorously as white beauties including Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable.
The media sometimes described Ms. Horne in terms that upset her.
“I hated those awful phrases they used to trot out to describe me!” she once said. “Who the hell wants to be a ‘chocolate chanteuse’ ?”
Ms. Horne was also frustrated by infrequent movie work and feeling limited in her development as an actress. She confronted studio officials about roles she thought demeaning, a decision that eventually hurt her.
James Gavin, a historian of cabaret acts who has written a biography of Ms. Horne, said: “Given the horrible restrictions of the time, MGM bent over backward to do everything they could. After MGM, she was an international star, and that made her later career possible, made her a superstar.”
Ms. Horne appeared on television and at major concerts halls in New York, London and Paris. She starred on Broadway twice, and her 1981 revue, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” set the standard for the one-person musical show, reviewers said. The performance also netted her a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards.
Gavin said Ms. Horne cultivated a “ferocious” singing personality through her flashing eyes and teeth.
“Unlike Perry Como and Bing Crosby, who were warm, familiar presences, Lena Horne was a fierce black woman and not a warm and fuzzy presence,” Gavin said. “She was formidable and the first black cabaret star for white society.”
Ms. Horne said she felt a need to act aloof onstage to protect herself from unwanted advances early in her career, especially from white audiences.
“They were too busy seeing their own preconceived image of a Negro woman,” she told the New York Daily News in 1997. “The image that I chose to give them was of a woman who they could not reach. . . . I am too proud to let them think they can have any personal contact with me. They get the singer, but they are not going to get the woman.” (End of Excerpt) Read the article in its entirety here.