American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer, Lena Horne was born today, June 30, 1917, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Descended from the John C. Calhoun family, both sides of her family were a mixture of European American, Native American, and African American descent, and each belonged to what W. E. B. Du Bois called “The Talented Tenth”, the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated blacks, some of whom were mixed race.
Abandoned by her father, Edwin Fletcher “Teddy” Horne, Jr., a numbers kingpin in the gambling trade who left the family when she was three and moved to an upper-middle-class black community in the Hill District community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Lena lived with her mother, Edna Louise Scottron (1895–1985), daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron, an actress with a black theater troupe and traveled extensively.
Horne briefly moved to Atlanta with her mother; they returned to New York when Horne was 12 years old. Aged 18, she moved in with her father in Pittsburgh, staying in the city’s Little Harlem for almost five years and learning from native Pittsburghers Billy Strayhorn and Billy Eckstine, among others.
Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.
While at MGM, because MGM feared audiences of the day–but especially in the South–would not accept a beautiful black woman in romantic, non-menial roles, her appearances in movies were shot so that they could be cut easily from the film.
Branded a “Communist sympathizer” by many right-wing conservatives because of her association with Paul Robeson and her progressive political beliefs (which led her to be blacklisted in the 1950s), Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood.
Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington in August 1963, and continued to work as a performer, both in nightclubs and on television, while releasing well-received record albums. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway and earned her numerous awards and accolades.
She returned to movies in 1969 as Claire Quintana in Death of a Gunfighter (1969). Nine years later she returned to the screen again in the all-black musical The Wiz (1978), where she played Glinda the Good Witch. Although that was her last big-screen appearance, she stayed busy in television, appearing in “A Century of Women” (1994) and That’s Entertainment! III (1994). She continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s. disappearing from the public eye in 2000.
Ranked #62 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women in Rock N Roll. Received a Special Tony Award in 1982 for “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.” She had previously been nominated for Broadway’s 1958 Tony Award as Best Actress (Musical) for “Jamaica.” She was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Recording at 6282 Hollywood Boulevard and for Motion Pictures at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
1936 – Nancy Dussault (actress: Too Close for Comfort, The Ted Knight Show; co-host: Good Morning America)
1936 – Tony Musante (actor: Judgment, Toma, Fatal Choice, The Grissom Gang, Breaking Up is Hard To Do)
1955 – David Alan Grier (actor: Tales from the Hood, Jumanji, Loose Cannons, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, A Soldier’s Story, In Living Color, All is Forgiven)
1959 – Vincent D’Onofrio (actor: Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Mystic Pizza, Ed Wood, The Newton Boys, The Thirteenth Floor, The Cell)
1963 – Rupert Graves (actor: The Madness of King George, Damage, Maurice, A Room with a View, Doomsday Gun, Mrs. Dalloway)
1970 – Brian Bloom (actor: Once Upon a Time in America, As the World Turns, At Home with the Webbers, Bandit)
1971 – Monica Potter (actress: The Young and the Restless, Without Limits, Patch Adams, Along Came a Spider)