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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.
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
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
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English-language films, Hollywood blacklist, Lena Horne, The Duke Is Tops, Blackbirds, Stormy Weather, Lena, Cotton Club, Book:Lena Horne, Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria
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