Lena Horne, the legendary singer who broke racial barriers in the entertainment industry, died yesterday in Manhattan at age 92. The Brooklyn-born Horne once said, "I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. 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."
According to the NY Times obituary, she was the first black performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio and... went on to achieve international fame as a singer... 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.'"
She was usually cast in ensemble musicals, where she didn't interact with other white performers and her singing parts could be cut out; she said, "Mississippi wanted its movies without me. So no one bothered to put me in a movie where I talked to anybody, where some thread of the story might be broken if I were cut."
After Hollywood, Horne started to focus on her singing career; the Times says her "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," and her biographer called her, "the first black cabaret star for white society."
Via Arts Beat, here are two performances from Horne: