Screen Actors Guild mourns the passing of former SAG National Board Member Lena Horne. The legendary actor and jazz singer died Sunday, May 9, in New York City. She was 92. Horne was SAG’s first African American board member, serving from 1943-45.
Horne’s more than six-decade career began as a 16-year-old chorus girl at the fabled Cotton Club in Harlem in 1933, and would go on to span films, radio, television, recording, nightclubs, concert halls and Broadway.
Signed by MGM to a seven-year contract in the ‘40s, 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. Her breakout role was in 1943, when she played the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical Stormy Weather. The song by the same name became her signature number. A 20-foot mural of Horne in Stormy Weather adorns a wall of SAG headquarters in Los Angeles.
In 1944, she was the first African American to appear on the cover of a movie magazine, Motion Picture.
In the ‘50s, primarily due to her involvement with the Council for African Affairs and the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee to the Arts, Science and Professions, which were both accused of being Communist fronts at the time, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to appear on radio and television, fueling her critically acclaimed nightclub/cabaret act.
In the early '60s, Horne became more active in the civil rights movement. She was at a NAACP rally with Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the weekend before he was assassinated and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
Horne made a final rare film appearance in 1978 playing the role of Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
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.
As she 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."