Lena Horne (1917-2010)

When it comes to certain celebrated people, we find ourselves mulling over appropriate adjectives to describe them.

Exceptional. Courageous. Talented. Strong. Unique. Beautiful.

All of these words can be used to describe Lena Horne. We lost her last week. She was 92 years old.

Her singing career began in the 1930s, the Big Band era. Horne’s talent and beauty soon took her to Hollywood. But her talents were never used to their fullest. She did a few movies, sometimes having just one or two numbers in a musical (Till the Clouds Roll By, Words and Music, Ziegfeld Follies). Her best roles were in the movies Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. But the prize role of Julie in Show Boat eluded her.

Horne became involved with political causes, using her celebrity to call attention to civil rights. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, two of the groups she was involved with were named as Communist fronts. As a result, Horne was blacklisted and lost work. Despite that setback, Horne went on with her political activism, becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She concentrated her career on live performances and guest appearances on television (The Judy Garland Show, The Cosby Show, Sanford and Son). Later, Horne returned to the movies for Death of a Gunfighter and for the role of Glinda the Good in The Wiz. She also hosted a segment of the film That’s Entertainment III and was featured in the documentary The Harlem Renaissance.

Lena Horne laid the groundwork for African-American performers who followed her. She was an amazing, strong, determined, talented woman.