Essay, Research Paper: Lena Horne

Famous People

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Horne Lena Horne was born on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents
were Teddy and Edna Scottron Horne. After her father left her at the age of two
in order to pursue his gambling career; her mother leaving soon after that to
pursue her acting career; she went to live with her grandparents. Through her
grandparents influence she became involved with organizations like the NAACP, at
an early age. In 1924 she went back to live with her mother, traveling and being
schooled all over the state until she was fourteen. At the age of fourteen she
decided to drop out of school and go to work. Because she was talented and light
skinned it was not hard for her to find a job. She became a chorus girl in
Harlem’s Cotton Club where blacks entertained a strictly all white crowd. At
that time she was making about $25 a week. It was here that Lena got to meet and
observe now famous artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie,
Ethal Waters, and Billie Holiday. At the age of nineteen she met and married
Louis Jones. Together they had two children Gail and Teddy (who later died in
1970 from kidney failure). While trying to get used to raising a family and
having a career, she received a call from an agent, who had seen her at the
Cotton Club, about a part in a movie. Her controlling husband allowed her to be
in “The Duke is Tops” and also the musical revue “Blackbirds of
1939." When she finally got up the courage to leave Louis, he deiced to
take her son away from her. Page 2 She lost custody of Teddy when the divorce
was final and has always regretted not fighting harder for her son. After her
divorce she began singing with Noble Sissie’s Society Orchestra. Through out
their tour she had to endure harsh racism having to sleep in tenement boarding
houses, the bus and even once in circus grounds. Soon after that, she toured
with Charlie Barnet’s Outfit and became the first African American to tour
with an all white band. She was their feature singer and considers this to be
the beginning of her success. Lena decided to head out to Hollywood and see what
she could do out there. She began singing in the Trocadero Club where she met
one of the most influential people in her life: Billy Strayhom. Billy Strayhom
was the chief music-writer for Duke Ellington. Lena has always felt that she and
he were soul mates, despite the fact that he was gay. At 76 she sang a forty
minute set at his funeral. While singing in the Trocadero Club she was
discovered by MGM. Being a strong believer in equal rights she demanded a
contract. Right then Lena earned her place in African American history as “the
first African-American actress in history to sign a long-term contract with a
major film studio.” (AMC) Lena began to emerge as the first pinup girl for
African American GI’s. Also she was the first African American actress to be
on the cover of a movie magazine, Motion Picture Magazine 1944. Lena Horne
married a white musical arranger in 1947. His name was Lennie Page 3 Hayton.
They kept their marriage a secret for three years because of the controversy
over interracial marriages. When the marriage finally came out in the open, the
couple was bombarded with numerous threatening letters. The couple was married
for 24 years when he died in 1971. Devastated by his death; she moved in with
her daughter. It wasn’t until three years later when Tony Bennett convinced
her to return to show business that she did any performing. In 1981 she put on
the performance of a lifetime. Her one women show entitled “Lena Horne: The
Lady and Her Music” ran for fourteen months straight before she took the
production on tour. She has always been a strong believer in equal rights. Lena
has actively participated in the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People, the National Council of Negro women, the Delta Sigma Theta
sorority and the Urban League. Lena often offered her time singing and speaking
at rallies and conventions in support of equal rights. One of the advancements
she is most proud of is an honorary doctorate she received from Howard
University in 1980. “‘I had been offered doctorates earlier,’ she said,
‘and had turned them down because I hadn’t been to college. But by the time
Howard presented the doctorate to me, I knew I had graduated from the school of
life, and I was ready to accept it.’” (Amazon) In 1994 she released an Album
entitled “We’ll Be Together Again” as a tribute to some of the musician
that are gone who have contributed to her sixty one year career. The musicians
are Billy Strayhom, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Harold Arien and of course her
husband, Lennie Hayton. Page 4 Lena not only starred in movies but also on
television. She was in shows such as: “Ed Sullivan Show," “The Cosby
Show," and “The Perry Como Show.” She also starred in musical and
television specials with Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. She was
one of the first African American women in many US productions. Some of her most
famous songs recorded are “Here’s Lena--Now?" The Eagle and Me,"
“The Best Things in Life Are Free," “We’ll Be Together again,"
“The Lady and Her Music," “Lena: Lovely and Alive," “ I Gotta
Right to Sing the Blues," “Moanin’ Low.” Lena had roles in movies
such as: “Stormy Weather," “Cabin in the Sky," “Death of a
Gunfighter," “The Duke is Tops," “Blackbirds of 1939," and
much more. The Broadway shows she performed in were “Dance With Your Gods”
and “Jamaica” just to name a few. Lena Horne is considered one of the first
African American movie stars. She paved the way for African American men and
women in Hollywood. Her enduring and indelible career took her from cabaret
performer in the ‘30s to stage and screen star in the ‘40s, ‘50s, and
‘60s. She is currently recording today while living in New York City. I think
that she is overlooked too quickly when it comes to naming great performers. She
was finally recognized for her achievements in 1989 when earned a Grammy for
Lifetime Achievement. Lena Horne has paved a way for other African Americans to
enter into the world of film. I think that she is a great pioneer of equal
rights because she did it on her own terms and was not as forceful as some of
the other advocates. She achieved equal rights and respect because of her grace,
elegance and talent. Synopsis on Lena Horne Lena Horne has made a big difference
in the entertainment field of American Culture. She started performing at the
age of fourteen in a chorus line to help out with the bills at home. She quickly
moved into the Broadway scene. She has been in several Broadway shows like:
“Dance With Your Gods” in 1934 and also “Jamaica” in 1957. After
Broadway she began her film career. Although the movies she stared in had an all
African American cast, her presence helps push aside the stereotypical on-screen
images of African Americans. Lena made history by becoming the first Africa
American to tour with an all white band and also the first African American
women to sign a long-term contract with a major film studio. She was also an
accomplished jazz singer. Recording songs such as: “The Lady and Her Music”
and “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Lena was a strong advocate of equal
rights. he was a member of the NAACP, the National Council of Negro women and
the Urban League. I think that she is a great pioneer of equal rights because
she did it on her own terms and was not as forceful as some of the other
advocates. She achieved equal rights and respect because of her grace, elegance
and talent.

Magazines: Lena Town & Country, September ‘95, Vol. 149 issue 5184,
page 128. Author: Jonathan Schwartz The Lady Lived The Blues Biography, February
‘98, Vol. 2 issue 2, page 62 Author: Beverly Lauderdale Lena Horne, Timeless
as Ever Billboard, June ‘98, Vol. 110 issue 25, page 36 Author: Philip Booth
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