Lena Horne, Singer, Actress and Civil Rights Activist, Dies At 92


WASHINGTON DC - The NAACP is saddened by the loss of singer, actress and civil rights activist Lena Horne. Horne died on May 9 at the age of 92.

"We mourn the passing of Lena Horne, an outstanding, groundbreaking entertainer and a staunch civil rights activist who stood on the side of justice and equality," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "Lena Horne won the hearts of millions of Americans of all backgrounds as a glamorous and graceful actress and singer. She courageously broke many color barriers and fought valiantly to bring down the institutionalized racism that plagues our society and prevents all Americans from an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream."

An accomplished singer and actress, Horne became the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio, signing with MGM in 1943, but became disenchanted with Hollywood by the mid-1950s. She increased her focus on her singing career, solidifying herself as a premiere nightclub performer and starring in several musicals. Horne later returned to acting, appearing on several television shows such as Kraft Music Hall, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Bell Telephone Hour. She later co-starred with prominent actors Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett in Harry and Lena and Tony and Lena, and starred in the classic African American musical The Wiz. The singer also performed on dozens of albums featuring the likes of Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joe Williams, and Gábor Szabó, and received an NAACP Image Award in 1999 for Outstanding Jazz Artist.

In addition to her legacy as an entertainer, Horne was also known for her advocacy and contributions to social justice. At an early age, Horne displayed a passion for civil rights, and she first became a member of the NAACP as a student at Atlanta's Washington High School. Later, while singing for troops during World War II, she refused to perform "for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen." She was in attendance at an NAACP rally with Field Secretary Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi on the weekend before Evers was assassinated, and spoke and performed at the March on Washington on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women.

"Lena Horne's spirit and willingness to stand for what is just transcended her accomplishments in the arts, and we are extremely grateful for her commitment to civil rights and the mission of the NAACP," said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. "Her long-standing relationship with the NAACP dates back to high school, while her service to the Association as a member and public advocate was invaluable. Lena Horne was an excellent example of someone who used her platform as an entertainer to advocate for equal rights for African Americans and give a voice to the voiceless, and she will be missed" added Brock.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.