Monday, May 10, 2010

R.I.P.: Lena Horne

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne
(born June 30, 1917 in New York, NY, USA;
died May 9, 2010 in New York, NY, USA)

The singer and actor Lena Horne died in New York at the age of 92. Her obituaries celebrate her for her voice as well as for her political steadfastness when it came to any kind of racism which paved the way for many colleagues onto stage as well as into the studios of Hollywood. Her films "transformed the image of the African American woman in Hollywood", we read in one of the obituaries. Horne started her professional carreer in 1933 in New York's Cotton Club, later worked at Café Society, the city's first fully integrated nightclub, and with a rare political consciousness entered the film business planning to "establish a different kind of image for Negro women". She played major roles in "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather", both from 1943, as well as many other movies in which she shared equal billing with some of the leading white performers of her day -- even though these were segregated onscreen, "so producers could clip out her singing when the movies ran in the South". In the 1950s she returned to her singing career, performing at the plushest clubs and theaters in Las Vegas and New York. She took part in the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, performed on Broadway twice, including in the 1981 one-person musical show "Lena Horne. The Lady and Her Music" which earned her a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards. Obituaries: Washington Post; San Francisco Chronicle; Wall Street Journal; The Independent; The Guardian (1); The Guardian (2); The Guardian (3); Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
An Appreciation: Lena Horne
The multitalented entertainer's fierce individualism stood her in good stead during the trying times of the mid-20th century.
by Reed Johnson
Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2010

Toward the end of her very full life, Lena Horne suggested to a PBS interviewer that, after decades of struggling to define her image as an artist and a black woman, she finally had seized possession of her identity.

"I don't have to be a symbol to anybody," said Horne, who died Sunday night in a New York hospital at the age of 92. "I no longer have to be a 'credit.'"

Americans born before 1960 will recognize Horne's fragmented reference to a phrase that, mercifully, has now been confined to history's ash heap: "a credit to her (or his) race."

That perhaps somewhat well-intentioned, but deeply patronizing, sobriquet was applied -- mostly by white Americans, of course -- to a select group of blacks (Ralph Bunche, Joe Louis, Sammy Davis Jr.) deemed to possess superior talents and/or character traits that might, in time, help "uplift" other African Americans by setting a "good" example.

Viewed more sinisterly, it was a term that was plastered onto prominent blacks who were perceived by whites as conforming to white behavioral standards, and therefore didn't threaten America's racist status quo.

What Horne passionately insisted on was the right to be regarded not as the designated representative of a group, or the personification of some abstract ideal, but as a one-of-a-kind individual -- neither more, nor less. Horne posited herself as the active subject of her own life, not the object of the mainstream white audience's "exotic" fantasies and fears.

Her dignified personhood was expressed most obviously through her knockout beauty and multiple talents. Long before the idea of "self-branding" came into vogue, Horne established herself as a multi-dimensional entertainer, making her mark in musical theater, movies, records and later television.

Her fierce individualism also took form in the uncensored anger she vented at the racially based indignities she and other African Americans suffered. (She once threw a lamp at a lout who uttered a racist gibe in a Beverly Hills restaurant.)

Horne's singularity came through in a vocal style that was notable not for its effortless urbanity, a la Ella Fitzgerald, or booming gospel panache, in the Aretha Franklin mode, but for its elegant pop-jazz versatility and the sense it conveyed of the singer's heartfelt emotional struggles. She movingly dramatized those qualities in her early-'80s hit Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," which earned her a special Tony Award

Reviewing the show in the New York Times, critic Frank Rich noted that Horne had sung her signature tune "Stormy Weather" twice: first as a belt-it-out showstopper, then in the second act as an emotional coup de theatre that left Horne "blind with sweat and tears."

Another influential critic, John Simon, called Horne "a fascinatingly evolving singer; there wasn't a vocal style she didn't shed or at times revert to."

In a phone interview Monday, Arnold Rampersad, a Stanford University emeritus professor of English and author of books on Ralph Ellison and Jackie Robinson, said that Horne brought an aspect of "high class" and cultured sophistication to her singing, but didn't shy from the "more plebeian, gusty, authentically bluesy tradition" of singers such as Bessie Smith.

Horne found her widest renown on the big screen, in movies such as "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), "Panama Hattie" (1942) and "The Fallen Sparrow" (1942). But she was painfully passed over for the role she most coveted in the 1951 remake of "Show Boat," that of Julie, the mixed-race performer who has passed herself off as white.

Rampersad compared Horne with Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodgers great, in that she was given "a kind of role of leadership within the black world" that was to some extent bestowed on her by white American society. Horne herself acknowledged as much, once commenting that she was "a kind of black that white people could accept."

"I was their daydream," she said. "I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked."

But Horne, who was raised by her suffragist grandmother (a member of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People) in a free-thinking household, generally refused to play along with the restrictive conventions and damaging stereotypes of mid-20th-century Hollywood. She brushed away attempts to cast her as a Latina.

And she steered clear of cliches of the "tragic mulatto," depicted in pop culture as a figure so torn by "conflicting" ethnic identities that suicide seems the only possible escape.

"She had too much individual strength, moral strength, historical knowledge of what it meant to be African American" to allow herself to be destroyed by such hackneyed, prejudicial notions, Rampersad said. "She moved on."

In standing up to the ugly specter of American apartheid, Horne, who took part in civil rights demonstrations, joined with other African American entertainers, artists and athletes who simultaneously fascinated and unnerved many white Americans. The great singer-actor and social crusader Paul Robeson, a friend of Horne's, comes to mind, as do Miles Davis and Muhammad Ali.

Indisputably, Horne helped pave the way for any number of contemporary entertainers of color. Janet Jackson was quoted by the Associated Press as crediting Horne for having "opened up such doors for artists like myself." That was generous, given that Horne reportedly pressured ABC to drop Jackson from playing Horne in a planned television movie, because Horne was angry at Jackson's infamous breast-baring shenanigans at the 2004 Super Bowl.

Some would argue that the path Horne forged leads right up to the current occupant of the White House. Last year, when the Pasadena Playhouse opened a new bio-musical, "Stormy Weather," starring Leslie Uggams, the show's producer, Stewart Lane, told a Times reporter that Horne's efforts as "a light-skinned woman making it during the racially charged '40s, '50s and '60s... laid the groundwork for Barack Obama."

(In a statement released Monday, the president praised Horne for furthering the civil rights cause by adamantly objecting to the segregation of U.S. troops when she was asked to perform for them during World War II.)

Such assertions may be a bit of a stretch. But it's fair to stay that Lena Horne, at a minimum, was certainly a credit to herself.
Lena Horne Dies at 92; Singer and Civil Rights Activist Broke Barriers
by Dennis McLellan
Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne, the silky-voiced singing legend who shattered Hollywood stereotypes of African Americans on screen in the 1940s as a symbol of glamour whose signature song was "Stormy Weather," died Sunday in New York City. She was 92.

Horne died at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, a spokeswoman said. No cause of death was given.

Beginning as a 16-year-old chorus girl at the fabled Cotton Club in Harlem in 1933, Horne launched a more than six-decade career that spanned films, radio, television, recording, nightclubs, concert halls and Broadway.

As a singer, Horne had a voice that jazz critic Don Heckman described in a 1997 profile in The Times as "smooth, almost caressing, with its warm timbre and seductive drawl -- honey and bourbon with a teasing trace of lemon."

She was, Heckman wrote, "one of the legendary divas of popular music" -- a singer who "belonged in the pantheon of great female artists that includes Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae."

Horne, 80 at the time and cutting a new album, took a different view.

"Oh, please," she said. "I'm really not Miss Pretentious. I'm just a survivor. Just being myself."

When Horne first began dancing in the chorus at the Cotton Club -- three shows a night, seven nights a week for $25 a week -- she did so to help out her financially troubled family during the Depression.

By the time she arrived in Hollywood for a nightclub job in 1941, she had been a vocalist for the Noble Sissle and Charlie Barnet orchestras, had done some recording and was a cabaret sensation at the prestigious Cafe Society Downtown club in New York's Greenwich Village.

She created a similar response, performing at the Little Troc, a small club on the Sunset Strip, where, according to one news account, "she has knocked the movie population bowlegged and is up to her ears in offers."

Signed by MGM to a seven-year contract in an era when no other blacks were under long-term contracts at the major movie studios, Horne went on to become one of the best-known African American performers in the country.

With her copper-toned skin, strong cheekbones and dazzling smile, she was a breakthrough on the silver screen -- "Hollywood's first black beauty, sex symbol, singing star," as Vogue magazine described her decades later.

"I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," Horne once said. "I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked."

Refusing to play maids and other stereotypical roles offered to black actors at the time, Horne appeared in a nonspeaking role as a singer in her first MGM movie, "Panama Hattie," a 1942 comedy musical starring Red Skelton and Ann Sothern.

That set the tone for most of her screen appearances in the '40s, a time in which she appeared in more than a dozen movies, including "I Dood It," "Swing Fever," "Broadway Rhythm" and "Ziegfeld Follies."

In most of them, she had only cameos as a singer, who was typically clad in a glamorous evening gown and singing while leaning against a pillar. It became her on-screen trademark.

"They didn't make me into a maid, but they didn't make me into anything else either," she wrote in "Lena," her 1965 autobiography. "I became a butterfly pinned to a column singing away in Movieland."

Horne's musical numbers usually were shot independent of the films' narratives, making them easy to be deleted when screened in the Jim Crow South.

Two exceptions were the all-black musicals in which she was one of the stars: "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather," both released in 1943.

Her memorable rendition of Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen's "Stormy Weather" in the movie became a hit recording for Horne, as well as becoming her signature song.

A World War II pinup girl, the glamorous Horne in 1944 became the first African American to appear on the cover of a movie magazine, Motion Picture.

"Anybody who was not madly in love with Lena Horne should report to his undertaker immediately and turn himself in," actor and friend Ossie Davis said on "Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice," a 1996 installment of PBS' "American Masters" biography series.

"In the history of American popular entertainment, no woman had ever looked like Lena Horne. Nor had any other black woman had looks considered as 'safe' and non-threatening," Donald Bogle wrote in his book "Brown Sugar: Over One Hundred Years of America's Black Female Superstars."

"The Horne demeanor -- distant and aloof -- suggested that she was a woman off somewhere in a world of her own.... who appeared as if all her life she had been placed on a pedestal and everything had come easily to her. That was the way she appeared to be.... The reality was another matter."

She was born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her family lived in the home of her father's middle-class parents. Horne's grandmother was active in the Urban League, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and the women's suffrage movement.

Horne's father left his wife and daughter when Horne was 3. And her mother, unhappy living with her strong-willed mother-in-law, soon moved out to pursue an acting career with a Harlem-based black stock company.

That left young Lena in the care of her grandparents until she joined her mother on the road in the South a few years later.

Horne was living in Harlem with her mother and her out-of-work stepfather when she left school at 16 and joined the chorus at the Cotton Club in 1933.

While continuing to work at the club, she made her Broadway debut in 1934 with a small role in "Dance With Your Gods," an all-black drama that ran for only nine performances.

Leaving the Cotton Club in 1935, she became a featured singer in the all-black Noble Sissle Society Orchestra but quit two years later to marry Louis Jones, a Pittsburgh friend of her father's who was about nine years her senior.

At 19, she settled into domestic life in Pittsburgh and gave birth to her two children, Gail and Teddy. But she and her husband separated in 1940 and were divorced in 1944.

Although Horne gave up show business when she married Jones, money problems during the marriage prompted her to accept the co-starring role in "The Duke Is Tops," a low-budget, 1938 African American movie musical shot in 10 days.

She also appeared in "Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939," a Broadway revue that had only nine performances.

Moving back to New York after her marriage broke up, Horne was hired as a vocalist for the Barnet orchestra, becoming one of the first black performers to sing with a major white band, with whom she had a hit record, "Good for Nothing Joe,"

After leaving the Barnet band in 1941, Horne began an extended engagement at Cafe Society Downtown, where she first met and became friends with singer-actor and political activist Paul Robeson.

While under contract to MGM in the '40s, Horne met Lennie Hayton, a white staff composer and arranger at the studio who became her second husband.

Fearing public reaction when they married in Paris in 1947, they did not announce their marriage until three years later.

Horne later said she initially became involved with Hayton because she thought he could be useful to her career.

"He could get me into places no black manager could," she told the New York Times in 1981. "It was wrong of me, but as a black woman, I knew what I had against me." But, she said, "because he was a nice man and because he was in my corner, I began to love him."

But being married to a white man, whom she once said "taught me everything I know musically," took a toll -- from her impatience with black critics who questioned the marriage to her sometimes using her husband as a "whipping boy" and making him "pay for everything the whites had done to us."

Horne's last film for MGM -- a singing cameo in the musical "Duchess of Idaho," starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson -- was released in 1950, the same year she triumphantly appeared at the London Palladium.

Primarily due to her friendship with Robeson and her involvement with the Council for African Affairs and the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee to the Arts, Science and Professions, both of which were named as Communist fronts, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to appear on radio and television in the early '50s.

But the cabaret business remained untouched by the blacklist, and she focused on her critically acclaimed nightclub/cabaret act.

Her "Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria" became RCA Victor's biggest-selling album by a female vocalist in 1957.

"Lena, for most of us, defined the art of nightclub performing," the late cabaret singer Bobby Short told USA Today in 1997. "You can't discount her great beauty, but behind all of that is a great deal of talent and the ability to transmit the composer's intent to the audience."

Horne, who was able to resume appearing on television in 1956, also starred in the hit Broadway musical "Jamaica," which ran from 1957 to '59 and earned her a Tony Award nomination.

Unable to stay in many of the hotels she performed in because she was black, Horne developed what she later described as "a toughness, a way of isolating" herself from the audience as a performer.

"There was no cuteness or coyness about her," comedian Alan King said of Horne on "Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice." "Lena came out there and stuck it right in their face -- boom! She was radiantly and subtly brazen, saying to herself, You want to take me to bed, but you won't let me come in the front door.'"

Throughout her early career, Horne experienced the injustices suffered by African Americans at the time.

While touring with the USO during World War II, she was expected to entertain the white soldiers before appearing before African American troops

A day after performing for white soldiers in a large auditorium at Ft. Riley, Kan., she returned to entertain black troops in the black mess hall.

But when she discovered that the whites seated in the front rows were German prisoners of war, she became furious. Marching off the platform, she turned her back on the POWs and sang to the black soldiers in the back of the hall.

Horne's long-suppressed anger over the treatment of blacks in white society erupted in 1960 when she overheard a drunk white man at the Luau restaurant in Beverly Hills refer to her using a racial epithet.

Jumping up, she threw an ashtray, a table lamp and several glasses at him, cutting the man's forehead.

When reports of her outburst appeared in newspapers across the country, Horne was surprised at the positive response, mostly from African Americans.

"Phone calls and telegrams came in from all over," she told the Christian Science Monitor in 1984. "It was the first time it struck me that black people related to each other in bigger ways than I realized."

In the early '60s, Horne became more active in the civil rights movement, participating in a meeting with prominent blacks in 1963 with then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy in the wake of violence in Birmingham, Ala., and singing at civil rights rallies.

In the early '70s, Horne faced three personal tragedies within an 18-month period: In 1970, the same year her father died, her son died of kidney disease; and Hayton died of a heart attack in 1971.

Horne later said she "stayed in the house grieving" until Alan King "bullied" her out of her depression, and she returned to singing and recording.

She also toured with Tony Bennett, as well as doing 37 performances on Broadway of "Tony and Lena Sing" in 1974. And she played Glinda, the Good Witch in "The Wiz," the 1978 movie musical directed by Sidney Lumet, her then-son-in-law.

Then, in 1981, she made a triumphant return to Broadway in the hit "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music."

Horne, then 63, went on to win the Drama Desk Award and a special Tony Award for her autobiographical show that ran on Broadway for more than a year and led to a Grammy Award-winning soundtrack album and a cross-country tour of the show before going to London.

Her rendition of "Stormy Weather" was, naturally, a show-stopper.

She actually sang the song twice, first as she had in the movie when she was in her 20s and, she said in an interview, she couldn't sing it "worth a toot."

Then, at the end of the show, she electrified her audience by singing it again from the perspective of a woman in her 60s, who had experienced a lifetime of love and misery.

As Horne said in the documentary "Lena Horne: In Her Own Voice": "My life has been about surviving. Along the way I also became an artist. It's been an interesting journey. One in which music became first my refuge and then my salvation."

Horne was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 1984, and she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1998.
Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92
by Aljean Harmetz
New York Times, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne, who was the first black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and who went on to achieve international fame as a singer, died on Sunday night at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She was 92 and lived in Manhattan.

Her death was announced by her son-in-law, Kevin Buckley.

Ms. Horne might have become a major movie star, but she was born 50 years too early, and languished at MGM in the 1940s because of the color of her skin, although she was so light-skinned that, when she was a child, other black children had taunted her, accusing her of having a "white daddy."

Ms. Horne was stuffed into one "all-star" musical after another -- "Thousands Cheer" (1943), "Broadway Rhythm" (1944), "Two Girls and a Sailor" (1944), "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946), "Words and Music" (1948) -- to sing a song or two that could easily be snipped from the movie when it played in the South, where the idea of an African-American performer in anything but a subservient role in a movie with an otherwise all-white cast was unthinkable.

"The only time I ever said a word to another actor who was white was Kathryn Grayson in a little segment of 'Show Boat'" included in "Till the Clouds Roll By" (1946), a movie about the life of Jerome Kern, Ms. Horne said in an interview in 1990. In that sequence she played Julie, a mulatto forced to flee the showboat because she has married a white man.

But when MGM made "Show Boat" into a movie for the second time, in 1951, the role of Julie was given to a white actress, Ava Gardner, who did not do her own singing. (Ms. Horne was no longer under contract to MGM at the time, and according to James Gavin's Horne biography, "Stormy Weather," published last year, she was never seriously considered for the part.) And in 1947, when Ms. Horne herself married a white man -- the prominent arranger, conductor and pianist Lennie Hayton, who was for many years both her musical director and MGM's -- the marriage took place in France and was kept secret for three years.

Ms. Horne's first MGM movie was "Panama Hattie" (1942), in which she sang Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things." Writing about that film years later, Pauline Kael called it "a sad disappointment, though Lena Horne is ravishing and when she sings you can forget the rest of the picture."

Even before she came to Hollywood, Brooks Atkinson, the drama critic for The New York Times, noticed Ms. Horne in "Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1939," a Broadway revue that ran for nine performances. "A radiantly beautiful sepia girl," he wrote, "who will be a winner when she has proper direction."

She had proper direction in two all-black movie musicals, both made in 1943. Lent to 20th Century Fox for "Stormy Weather," one of those show business musicals with almost no plot but lots of singing and dancing, Ms. Horne did both triumphantly, ending with the sultry, aching sadness of the title number, which would become one of her signature songs. In MGM's "Cabin in the Sky," the first film directed by Vincente Minnelli, she was the brazen, sexy handmaiden of the Devil. (One number she shot for that film, "Ain't It the Truth," which she sang while taking a bubble bath, was deleted before the film was released -- not for racial reasons, as her stand-alone performances in other MGM musicals sometimes were, but because it was considered too risque.)

In 1945 the critic and screenwriter Frank Nugent wrote in Liberty magazine that Ms. Horne was "the nation's top Negro entertainer." In addition to her MGM salary of $1,000 a week, she was earning $1,500 for every radio appearance and $6,500 a week when she played nightclubs. She was also popular with servicemen, white and black, during World War II, appearing more than a dozen times on the Army radio program "Command Performance."

"The whole thing that made me a star was the war," Ms. Horne said in the 1990 interview. "Of course the black guys couldn't put Betty Grable's picture in their footlockers. But they could put mine."

Touring Army camps for the U.S.O., Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. "So the U.S.O. got mad," she recalled. "And they said, 'You're not going to be allowed to go anyplace anymore under our auspices.' So from then on I was labeled a bad little Red girl."

Ms. Horne later claimed that for this and other reasons, including her friendship with leftists like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, she was blacklisted and "unable to do films or television for the next seven years" after her tenure with MGM ended in 1950.

This was not quite true: as Mr. Gavin has documented, she appeared frequently on "Your Show of Shows" and other television shows in the 1950s, and in fact "found more acceptance" on television "than almost any other black performer." And Mr. Gavin and others have suggested that there were other factors in addition to politics or race involved in her lack of film work

Although absent from the screen, she found success in nightclubs and on records. "Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria," recorded during a well-received eight-week run in 1957, reached the Top 10 and became the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor's history.

In the early 1960s Ms. Horne, always outspoken on the subject of civil rights, became increasingly active, participating in numerous marches and protests.

In 1969, she returned briefly to films, playing the love interest of a white actor, Richard Widmark, in "Death of a Gunfighter."

She was to act in only one other movie: In 1978 she played Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wiz," the film version of the all-black Broadway musical based on "The Wizard of Oz." But she never stopped singing.

She continued to record prolifically well into the 1990s, for RCA and other labels, notably United Artists and Blue Note. And she conquered Broadway in 1981 with a one-woman show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," which ran for 14 months and won both rave reviews and a Tony Award.

Ms. Horne's voice was not particularly powerful, but it was extremely expressive. She reached her listeners emotionally by acting as well as singing the romantic standards like "The Man I Love" and "Moon River" that dominated her repertory. The person she always credited as her main influence was not another singer but a pianist and composer, Duke Ellington's longtime associate Billy Strayhorn.

"I wasn't born a singer," she told Strayhorn's biographer, David Hajdu. "I had to learn a lot. Billy rehearsed me. He stretched me vocally." Strayhorn occasionally worked as her accompanist and, she said, "taught me the basics of music, because I didn't know anything."

Strayhorn was also, she said, "the only man I ever loved," but Strayhorn was openly gay, and their close friendship never became a romance. "He was just everything that I wanted in a man," she told Mr. Hajdu, "except he wasn't interested in me sexually."

Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1917. All four of her grandparents were industrious members of Brooklyn's black middle class. Her paternal grandparents, Edwin and Cora Horne, were early members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and in October 1919, at the age of 2, Lena was the cover girl for the organization's monthly bulletin.

By then the marriage of her parents, Edna and Teddy Horne, was in trouble. "She was spoiled and badly educated and he was fickle," Ms. Horne's daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her family history, "The Hornes." By 1920 Teddy had left his job with the New York Department of Labor and fled to Seattle, and Edna had fled to a life on the stage in Harlem. Ms. Horne was raised by her paternal grandparents until her mother took her back four years later.

When she was 16, her mother abruptly pulled her out of school to audition for the dance chorus at the Cotton Club, the famous Harlem nightclub where the customers were white, the barely dressed dancers were light-skinned blacks, Duke Ellington was the star of the show and the proprietors were gangsters. A year after joining the Cotton Club chorus she made her Broadway debut, performing a voodoo dance in the short-lived show "Dance With Your Gods" in 1934.

At 19, Ms. Horne married the first man she had ever dated, 28-year-old Louis Jones, and became a conventional middle-class Pittsburgh wife. Her daughter Gail was born in 1937 and a son, Teddy, in 1940. The marriage ended soon afterward. Ms. Horne kept Gail, but Mr. Jones refused to give up Teddy, although he did allow the boy long visits with his mother.

In 1938, Ms. Horne starred in a quickie black musical film, "The Duke Is Tops," for which she was never paid. Her return to movies was on a grander scale.

She had been singing at the Manhattan nightclub Cafe Society when the impresario Felix Young chose her to star at the Trocadero, a nightclub he was planning to open in Hollywood in the fall of 1941. In 1990, Ms. Horne reminisced: "My only friends were the group of New Yorkers who sort of stuck with their own group -- like Vincente, Gene Kelly, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and Richard Whorf -- the sort of hip New Yorkers who allowed Paul Robeson and me in their houses."

Since blacks were not allowed to live in Hollywood, "Felix Young, a white man, signed for the house as if he was going to rent it," Ms. Horne said. "When the neighbors found out, Humphrey Bogart, who lived right across the street from me, raised hell with them for passing around a petition to get rid of me." Bogart, she said, "sent word over to the house that if anybody bothered me, please let him know."

Roger Edens, the composer and musical arranger who had been Judy Garland's chief protector at MGM, had heard the elegant Ms. Horne sing at Cafe Society and also went to hear her at the Little Troc (the war had scaled Mr. Young's ambitions down to a small club with a gambling den on the second floor). He insisted that Arthur Freed, the producer of MGM's lavish musicals, listen to Ms. Horne sing. Then Freed insisted that Louis B. Mayer, who ran the studio, hear her, too. He did, and soon she had signed a seven-year contract with MGM.

The N.A.A.C.P. celebrated that contract as a weapon in its war to get better movie roles for black performers. Her father weighed in, too. In a 1997 PBS interview, she recalled: "My father said, 'I can get a maid for my daughter. I don't want her in the movies playing maids.'"

Ms. Horne is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. Her husband died in 1971; her son died of kidney failure the same year.

Looking back at the age of 80, Ms. Horne said: "My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I'm free. 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."
- Peter Keepnews contributed reporting.

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