Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was a singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer.
Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City Reported to be descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of African American, European American, and Native American descent and each belonged to what W. E. B. Du Bois called “The Talented Tenth,” the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated blacks.
Horne joined the mike chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Due to the Red Scare and her left-leaning political views, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood.
Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington in August 1963, and continued to work as a performer, both in nightclubs and on television, while releasing well-received record albums. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway and earned her numerous awards and accolades. She continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s, disappearing from the public eye in 2000.
Lena Horne died on May 9, 2010, at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City of heart failure, according to her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by granddaughters Jenny and Amy Lumet, Lena Jones, Samadhi Jones, and grandsons, William and Thomas Jones. On May 14, 2010, Horne’s funeral took place at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue in New York City. Thousands gathered to mourn her, including singers Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick,Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera and actresses Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Lauren Bacall, Audra McDonald and Vanessa L. Williams. Horne was laid to rest in the Horne Family Plot at The Evergreen’s Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
Lena Horne is truly a face of Brooklyn.