Lena Horne Biography
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (born June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American popular singer. While she has recorded and performed extensively with jazz musicians (notably Artie Shaw and Teddy Wilson), she is usually not considered a jazz singer because she does not improvise. She currently lives in New York City but no longer makes public appearances.
After a false start headlining an obscure 1938 musical film called, The Duke is Tops, Horne became the first African American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, namely Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her debut with MGM in 1942's Panama Hattie and became famous in 1943 for her rendition of Stormy Weather in the movie of the same name (which she made while on loan to 20th Century Fox from MGM).
She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, most notably Cabin in the Sky (also 1943), but was never featured in a leading role due to her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be reedited for showing in southern states where theatres could not show films with African American performers. As a result, most of Horne's film appearances were standalone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, though even then one of her numbers had to be cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors.
Stormy Weather did feature Horne in a major acting role, with a more substantial part than what she had in Cabin in the Sky, but as noted, this was not an MGM musical. She was originally considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in MGM's 1951 version of Show Boat (having already played the role when a segment of Show Boat was performed in Till the Clouds Roll By) but Ava Gardner was given the role instead (the production code office had banned interracial relationships in films). In the documentary That's Entertainment! III Horne stated that MGM executives required Gardner to practice her singing using recordings of Horne performing the songs, which offended both Horne and Gardner (ultimately, Gardner ended up having her singing voice overdubbed by another actress for the threatrical release, though her own voice was heard on the soundtrack album).
Disenchanted with Hollywood by the mid-1950s, and increasingly focused on her nightclub career, she only made two major appearances in MGM films during the decade, 1950's Duchess of Idaho (which was also Eleanor Powell's film swan song), 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 the Good Witch in The Wiz (1978), with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and co-hosting the aforementioned 1994 MGM retrospective That's Entertainment! III in which she was candid about her treatment by the studio. During the mid 70's, she made an appearance on Sesame Street where she sang with Kermit the Frog.
She appeared in Broadway musicals several times and in 1958 was nominated for the Tony Award for "Best Actress in a Musical" (for her part in the "Calypso" musical Jamaica) In 1981 she received a Special Tony Award for her show, Lena Horne: "The Lady and Her Music". She also made occasional TV appearances, such as a guest appearance as herself on Sanford and Son in the 70s and a mid-1980s performance on The Cosby Show.
In 1994, she released the album We'll Be Together Again featuring many songs written by her friends Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Included in this project is Day Follows Day a duet with the incomparable Johnny Mathis which is rare treat for her fans. Horne has never been a singer to record duets and this is a special exception.
In 2003, ABC announced that Janet Jackson would star as Horne in a television biopic (after it was rumored for years that Whitney Houston would take the job). In the weeks following Jackson's so-called "wardrobe malfunction" debacle during the 2004 Super Bowl, however, Variety reported that Horne demanded Jackson be dropped from the project. "ABC executives resisted Horne’s demand," according to the Associated Press report, "but Jackson representatives told the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part." Oprah Winfrey stated to Alicia Keys during a 2005 interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show that she might possibly consider producing the biopic herself, casting Keys as Horne.
In 2006 According to Hollywood Sources Lena Horne has indeed blessed Whitney Houston's offer for Houston to play her in the ABC biopic of Lena Horne, citing "This could be a wonderful chance for Whitney to get back into acting she been out since 1996,that's 10 years ago. Whitney Houston is on the road for a big comeback and this would be the perfect incentive. Whitney Houston is beautiful, talented, strong-minded black woman that reminds me of myself. She is now currently my first and only choice to portray me in this upcoming biopic".
In January 2005, Blue Note Records, her label for more than a decade, announced that "the finishing touches have been put on a collection of rare and unreleased recordings by the legendary Horne made during her time on Blue Note. Remixed by her longtime producer Rodney Jones, the recordings sound wonderful and include 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 recorded in 1999 but remained unreleased for six years. The album was released on January 24, 2006.
Horne was married to Lennie Hayton, a white, Jewish American from 1947 until his death in 1971. Hayton was one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM. Studio executives disapproved of the marriage, and eventually both Horne and Hayton were let go. In her as-told-to autobiography Lena by Richard Schickel, Horne recounts the enormous pressures she and her husband faced as an interracial married couple.