Singer. Actress. Icon. These are just a few of the titles used to describe the incomparable Lena Horne.
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Her name continues to shine as bright as her legendary smile as the late entertainer and civil rights activist recently became the first Black woman to have a Broadway theatre named in her honor.
The Brooks Atkinson Theatre at 256 W. 47th Street has been renamed and now displays a glowing marquee with the name of Lena Horne. It is the first theatre to be named after a Black actress.
Many stars who worked with her and those who she has inspired attended the unveiling of the Lena Horne Theatre. Her granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, encouraged the crowd outside the theatre to remember and follow Horne’s message: be inspired.
“She would say, ‘Let it soar. Let your cup runneth over. Do your thing. Make more art and believe,'” Jenny said.
Horne started her entertainment journey at the age of 16 as a chorus member for a Harlem night club called the Cotton Club, according to New York radio station WABC.
She would later make her way to Hollywood where she booked small parts in a variety of movies. Her major roles happened in 1943 and include Georgia Brown in the film “Cabin in the Sky” and Selina Rogers in “Stormy Weather,” where she also lent her singing voice.
One of the few movie stars of color during the 1940s, Horne was very active in the civil rights movement and beyond. She soared to great heights as an actress starring in more several movies, television and Broadway shows. She also stayed grounded in her roots as a nightclub performer.
Throughout her career she earned many awards. They include four Grammys, an NAACP Image Award in 1999, and a Tony award for Best Actress in 1957 for creating the role of Savannah in the musical “Jamaica.”
The theatre was recently renovated, thus the name change was right on time. Previously, it was named after the late theatre critic Justin Brooks Atkinson, known for his reviews in the New York Times. Famous productions housed there include Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” in 1941, “Of Mice and Men” in 1974 and “Waitress” beginning in 2016.
Horne died in 2010 at the age of 92, but her memory lives on in her work, something that was seen at the renaming ceremony when folks shared so many positive memories of the icon.
“Her activism came out of her experiences in life,” actress and singer Vanessa Williams said. “As gorgeous as she was, she was a woman of color. She still has discriminating circumstances and roles weren’t given it to her. I was at an event and she was there and I remember bursting into tears because she meant that much to me.”
Actor Wendell Pierce shared Vanessa’s sentiments with his own words of praise.
“It’s all about legacy, making sure people know that she created a path for others to follow, that they don’t have to feel that they’re alone, that someone was there before and ahead of time,” Pierce said. “She had true courage.”
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