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Lena Horne, Electrifying Singer, Dies

Adam Bernstein

Lena Horne, the singer and actress who died Sunday at 92, cut a singular path through modern culture.

She was the first black actress to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio (MGM in 1942) and the first black actress to be popularly accepted in roles that were as glamorous as any bestowed on the studio's other top singing talent. She was beautiful, to be sure, and was quickly made a pin-up for (black) wartime soldiers.

But almost as rapidly as she rose to international fame, she quickly became disillusioned with her groundbreaking career. Her appearances in movie musicals were often scissored from the final cut when the films ran at theaters in the segregated South. She said she experienced jealousy from unexpected quarters -- black performers in Hollywood who depended on servant and jungle native parts for their livelihood. And most of all Ms. Horne grew to resent playing the role of a "good little symbol."

A major triumph of her career was her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, which attracted a great deal of attention and praise. She regarded the show as the most liberating moment of her life, saying her identity was clear to her because "I no longer have to be a 'credit,' I don't have to be a 'symbol' to anybody. I don't have to be a 'first' to anybody. I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else."

On that note, perhaps it's best simply to revel in her talent.

Her earliest screen appearance was from this 1938 movie short called "the Duke Is Tops." Fascinating to see her before the Hollywood glamour machine took over.

And we'd be remiss to forget her signature song, "Stormy Weather," a tune originally written for Ethel Waters. Water reportedly resented Ms. Horne for, in essence, usurping the tune from her.

Please leave your memories of Ms. Horne below.

By Adam Bernstein  |  May 10, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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Ms. Horne was gorgeous in every way. A class act!

Posted by: alm22 | May 10, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Ms Horne was a true star, that will be missed. The arts & entertainment need examples of values for quality


Posted by: bmxentertainment | May 10, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

This beautiful lady will be missed. She overcame obstacles that would have left many of us shattered and unable to go on. Her life is a tribute to all women; truly a remarkable life. To all who are close to her and mourn her passing, I offer my sympathy for your loss.

Posted by: Laynne | May 10, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I admired her art since my early youth and I still enjoy her music. All her songs are memories I treasure in my heart and I still enjoy them every day. Rest in peace dear Lena, thanks for all those wonderful songs. We will miss you. My condolences to her family and friends

Posted by Bardoviejo

Posted by: bardoviejo | May 11, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Well she never flaunted it during her lifetime but Ms. Horne was the direct descendent of the 7th Vice President of the United States America..She resembles portraits of him ...but the race codes of the time and still today do not acknowledge that fact but the truth is in their looks...

Posted by: lindarcrawford | May 12, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Stormy Weather was one of the key songs I grew up with. I never had a problem with her skin color. One couldn't choose one's skin color when born. I accepted her on her vocal ability alone. It's a shame that our great performers of every field had to be criticized because of their skin color and not on their abilities alone.

Posted by: maldelus | May 13, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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