Monday, May 10, 2010
Lena Horne (1917-2010)
I know why there's no sun up in the sky and that's because the world has lost the irreplaceable Lena Horne at the age of 92. The actress/singer who helped to break down racial barriers by becoming the first African-American performer to receive a major Hollywood studio contract passed away Sunday night in a Manhattan hospital.
Even with that contract, her filmography is a short one, beginning in 1938 with The Duke Is Tops also known as The Bronze Venus. Once she got her MGM contract, she first appeared in 1942's Panama Hattie. In 1943, she gave her best film performance as a conniving woman working for the devil in Vincente Minnelli's great film debut Cabin in the Sky. The same year she appeared in Stormy Weather, the film titled after her signature song. The next year brought Broadway Rhythm. Two years later brought Til the Clouds Roll By . She appeared in many other all-star musicals in the 1940s, but the studios were certain to make the numbers easily cuttable so they could excise them from prints that played in the South.
Then Ms. Horne didn't grace the big screen again until 1969's Death of A Gunfighter co-starring Richard Widmark as her love interest. Another nine years passed before she made her last film as an actress, playing Glinda the Good Witch in Sidney Lumet's The Wiz.
She first appeared on Broadway in 1934, but her appearances were rare there as well. She received a Tony nomination for best actress in a musical in 1958 for Jamaica and received a special Tony in 1981 for her concert Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.
She also was one of the sexy dancers at the infamous Harlem nightclub The Cotton Club, where the entertainment was exclusively African-American, the clientele was exclusively white and the management were gangsters.
The bulk of her career was spent taking that sultry voice to concert halls or appearing as herself in other venues such as That's Entertainment III and sitcoms such as A Different World, The Cosby Show and a particularly memorable Sanford & Son, where Fred tricked her into coming to his house claiming that Lamont was his young, terminally ill child.
RIP Ms. Horne. To read The New York Times obit, click here.