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Lena Horne

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(1917 – 2010)

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer. She was born in Brooklyn, New York. She had recorded and performed extensively, both independently, and with other jazz notables, including Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Charlie Barnet, Benny Carter, and Billy Eckstine.

In her biography she stated that on the day she was born, her father was in the midst of a card game trying to get money to pay the hospital costs. Her parents divorced while she was still a toddler. Her mother left later in order to find work as an actress and Lena was left in the care of her grandparents. When she was seven her mother returned and the two traveled around the state, which meant that Lena was enrolled in numerous schools (for a time she also attended schools in Florida, Georgia and Ohio). Later she returned to Brooklyn.

She quit school when she was 14 and got her first stage job at 16, dancing and later singing at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem (a renowned theatre in which black performers played before white audiences, immortalized in the film - The Cotton Club (1984)). She was in good hands at the club, especially when people such as Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington took her under their wings and helped her over the rough spots.

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