June 30: Lena Horne was born on this date in 1917...

... she died on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City. Her mother, Edna Scottron, daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, was an actress with a black theatre troupe and traveled extensively. Lena was raised by her grandparents, Cora Calhoun and Edwin Horne.

In 1933, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City. In the spring of 1934, she had a featured role in the Cotton Club Parade starring Adelaide Hall who took Lena under her wing. A few years later she joined Noble Sissle's Orchestra, with which she toured and with whom she recorded her first record release, a 78rpm single issued by Decca Records.

After she separated from her first husband, Horne toured with bandleader Charlie Barnet in 1940–41, but disliked the travel and left the band to work at the Café Society in New York. She replaced Dinah Shore as the featured vocalist on NBC's popular jazz series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. The show's resident maestros, Henry Levine and Paul Laval, recorded with Horne in June 1941 for RCA Victor. Horne left the show after only six months to headline a nightclub revue on the west coast.

The Essential Lena Horne: The Rca YearsAt the Waldorf Astoria / At the Sands

Horne already had two low-budget movies to her credit: a 1938 musical feature called The Duke is Tops (later reissued with Horne's name above the title as The Bronze Venus); and a 1941 two-reel short subject, Boogie Woogie Dream. Horne was primarily a nightclub performer during this period, and it was during a 1943 club engagement in Hollywood that talent scouts approached Horne to work in pictures. She chose Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio.

In November 1944 she was featured in an episode of the popular radio series, Suspense, as a fictional nightclub singer, with a large speaking role along with her singing. In 1945 and 1946 she sang with Billy Eckstine's Orchestra.

She made her debut with MGM in Panama Hattie in 1942, and the following year, performed the title song of Stormy Weather based loosely on the life of Adelaide Hall. 

Published in the Feb.1944 issue of Esquire
She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky, but was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers.

As a result, most of Horne's film appearances were stand-alone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline. Cabin in the Sky was a notable exception since it was an all-black musical; although one number was cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors.

"Ain't it the Truth" was the song (and scene) cut before the release of the film Cabin in the Sky. It featured Horne singing "Ain't it the Truth," while taking a bubble bath - considered too "risqué" by the film's executives. This scene and song are featured in the film That's Entertainment! III (1994) which also featured commentary from Horne on why the scene was deleted prior to the film's release.

She was blacklisted during the 1950s for her political views. By the mid-1950s, Horne was disenchanted with Hollywood and increasingly focused on her nightclub career.

She only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950's Duchess of Idaho, and the 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas. She returned to the screen three more times, playing chanteuse Claire Quintana in the 1969 film Death of a Gunfighter, Glinda in The Wiz (film), and co-hosting the 1994 MGM retrospective That's Entertainment! III, in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio.

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.

Lena Horne 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.

In January 2005, Blue Note Records, her label for more than a decade, put out a collection of rare and unreleased recordings by Horne made during her time on Blue Note. Remixed by her longtime producer Rodney Jones, the record includes versions of such signature songs as "Something to Live For," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Stormy Weather." The album, originally titled Soul but renamed Seasons of a Life, was released on January 24, 2006.

The 83rd Academy Awards presented a tribute to Horne by actress Halle Berry at the ceremony held February 27, 2011.



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