Singer, Activist Lena Horne Passes Away At 92

Yesterday, Lena Horne passed away at the age of 92. For my generation, possibly one of the few memories that one has of Lena Horne is her rendition of the song “It’s Not Easy Being Green” on Sesame Street in 1980. Not long before that, she played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz. By that time, Horne was no longer battling for racial equality. By the time we knew her, her groundbreaking push for equality was long over.

She was known for her beauty, sexiness, and intelligence. Her most famous hit (which follows) is “Stormy Weather”.

She was a very angry woman. It’s something that shaped her life to a very high degree. She was a woman who had a very powerful desire to lead her own life, to not be cautious and to speak out. And she was a woman, also, who felt in her career that she had been held back by the issue of race. So she had a lot of anger and disappointment about that. I’m talking particularly about her movie career,” said Richard Schickel, film critic-author-documentarian. He helped her work on her 1965 autobiography.

She could sing in the white nightclubs, but could not interact with the patrons there. In order to survive, she cultivated an aloof demeanor. It was her way of preserving her own ambitions to be a great singer and entertainer. She resisted the attempts by the studios to make her appear Latin American rather than black. “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.” she said once.

It was while entertaining the troops during WWII that Horne became active in the Civil Rights movement that would come. While entertaining the troops, she sang before a group of soldiers and prisoners. Seated towards the front were the German POW’s, while at the back were African-American soldiers. From there, Horne’s anger turned to overturning injustice. She became the most visible celebrity to become active in the movement. She was even there when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech. She even threw a lamp at a restaurant customer for using a racial slur.

In between 1970 and 1971, her father, her son and her husband all passed away. Stricken with grief, she secluded herself until friends were able to convince her to return to the stage. “I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters,” she said. “It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live…I wouldn’t trade my life for anything because being black made me understand,” she said.

Time mellowed the bitterness of the struggle for equality. – LGR

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