She was my father's favorite movie star & he has a story of filling her automobile's gas tank at the gas station he worked at on La Cienega Boulevard in 1944. Lena Horne had a primary occupation of nightclub entertaining, a profession she pursued successfully around the world for more than 60 years, from the 1930s to the 1990s. Besides her club work, she also maintained a recording career that stretched from 1936 to 2000 & brought her 3 Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. She appeared in 16 feature films & several shorts between 1938 & 1978. She performed occasionally on Broadway, including in her own Tony winning show- Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music in 1981/1982; & she sang & acted on radio & TV.
Adding to the challenge of maintaining such a career was her position as an African-American facing discrimination personally & in her profession during a period of enormous social change in the U.S. Her first job in the 1930s was at the Cotton Club, where blacks could perform, but not be admitted as customers.
By 1969, when Horne acted in the film Death of a Gunfighter, her character's marriage to a white man went unremarked in the script. Horne herself was a pivotal figure in the changing attitudes about race in the 20th century; her middle-class upbringing & musical training lent he talent to the popular music of the day, rather than the blues & jazz more commonly associated with people of color. Lena's photogenic beauty was close enough to Caucasian that frequently she was encouraged to try to "pass" for white, something she consistently refused to do. But her position in the middle of a social struggle enabled her to become a leader in that struggle, speaking out in favor of racial integration & raising money for civil rights causes. By the end of the century, Horne could look back at a life that was never short on conflict, but that could be seen ultimately as a triumph.
Horne was closely associated with the songs of her friend-the openly gay Billy Strayhorn.
She left this world 10 years after the start of the new century, with a legacy of the music & images of her stunning beauty.