Monday, May 10, 2010

My Icons: The Breakthrough

Icon: Lena Horne, Legendary actress/singer

"Don't be afraid to feel as angry or as loving as you can, because when you feel nothing, it's just death."
"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."
-Lena Horne

The woman who Tony Bennett called the most beautifully woman he had ever seen was the first Black American actress to land a movie contract with a major studio. By inking that deal with MGM, she broke barriers and opened doors for countless performers. Horne refused to play the roles of a maid and other stereotypical roles and became a Hollywood starlet despite the color of her skin. I first remember seeing her as the Good Witch in The Wiz which also starred superstars Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Throughout her career, Horne was also very dedicated to her advocacy for civil rights. She was an early pioneer in the movement for equality, fighting for desegregation along with other beacons of the movement such as Paul Robeson and Medgar Evers. She also fought with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
She represented the old Hollywood class and grace that was also held by other stars such as Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Sammy Davis Jr. They don't make them like that anymore.

Below is a video of Horne's scene from the 1943 film Stormy Weather in which she sang the title track.

Stormy Weather
Lena Horne

Here is an appearance on The Late Show with Johnny Carson in 1982. Horne was in the middle of her stint on Broadway in her one woman show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. She received a Special Tony Award for that show. Horne still holds the record for the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history. She was so regal and I loved her wit.

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