Diary

Remembering Lena Horne (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was born in New York City, got her start in Harlem’s Cotton Club, conquered Broadway with Lena Horne; The Lady and Her Music, and has just passed away in New York. A NYC honorary street renaming (or a school renaming) might be in order.

I didn’t know that her grandfather was an inventor and a leader in the Republican party:

Samuel Raymond Scottron was a prominent African-American inventor from Brooklyn, N.Y. who began his career as a barber. He was born in Philadelphia in 1841. He received his engineering degree from Cooper Union in 1878.

He was a community leader in New York, setting up organizations to promote racial harmony and fairness, as well as a public speaker and writer on race relations. He was a member of the Brooklyn board of education, and a leader in the Republican Party. He fought for the end of slavery in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

He invented a special mirror bracket which allowed you to see your self as others see you. He went on to receive 4 more patents.
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Scottron was the maternal grandfather of noted singer Lena Horne (1917-2010).

Her Wikipedia page shows that Horne particpated in 1963’s March on Washington:

Civil rights activism
Horne also is noteworthy for her contributions to the Civil Rights movement. In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and worked with Paul Robeson, a singer who also combated American racial discrimination. During World War II, when entertaining the troops for the USO, she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or to groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen”,[6] according to her Kennedy Center biography. She was at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi the weekend before Evers was assassinated. She also met President John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated. She was at the March on Washington and spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women. She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws. She was a member of the prominent organization, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.

Her New York Times obituary tells the racial struggles she had in Hollywood:

Lena Horne, Singer and Actress, Dies at 92
By ALJEAN HARMETZ
Published: May 9, 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.
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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.
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“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.”

The New York Times mentions Horne’s grandparents, but didn’t add a word about that awful Republican grandparent, Samuel Raymond Scottron:

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.

Horne was friends with leftist Paul Robeson, but Robeson was a great talent and I don’t know if Horne ever supported the Soviet Union (like Robeson did):

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.

Lena Horne was more than just a credit to her race:

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.”

She sang of Stormy Weather, but she was always a ray of sunshine:

Can’t go on
Everything I have is gone
Stormy weather
Since my man and I ain’t together
It’s raining all the time
Keeps raining all the time.