Reintroducing the Lena Horne Recognition Act of 2015by Representative Alcee L. Hastings
Posted on 2015-02-10
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Mr. HASTINGS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to reintroduce the Lena Horne
Recognition Act of 2015, which would award the Congressional Gold Medal
to the late, renowned singer, actress, and Civil Rights icon, Ms. Lena
Mary Calhoun Horne.
As an African American woman born in the 1917, Ms. Horne, who passed away in 2010, was truly a woman of firsts, having pioneered the way for many men and women of color through her work in Jazz, film, and the Civil Rights movement. She began her career in the chorus line at Harlem's famed Cotton Club before moving on to record dozens of musical tracks and playing roles in movies and musicals.
As a young woman, Lena drew much fame from her beauty and talent, yet found many roadblocks in her personal success due to the hyper- racialized nature of show business at the time. However, this adversity would not limit her, and presented a platform for her increasing support of and action in the Civil Rights movement.
[[Page E186]] The first to do so, Lena signed a long term contract with Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and embarked on a career in Hollywood, as her celebrity had been noticed by many, despite the color of her skin. She was also the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award. However, again, she found road blocks in her professional life, due to state-law restrictions in on-screen interracial relationships as well as the need to have her roles edited out for Jim Crow abiding viewers. Blacklisted during the period of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Ms. Horne still recorded what would become the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor's history in 1957.
From music and film, Lena had built a substantial fan base, and by the 1960s, at the peak of the Civil Rights movement, she became a staple on Television. She had become so renowned in popular culture despite her race that she appeared on shows such as the Dean Martin Show and Ed Sullivan Show. In 1970, Horne co-starred with well known actor, Harry Belafonte, on a show for ABC donning their names--``Harry and Lena.'' She would go on to play herself on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Sanford and Son. In 1981, Lena then received two Grammy awards and a special Tony award for her cast recording of her Broadway show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. In 1989, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Amongst her many awards, Ms. Horne was the recipient of the Kennedy Center honor for lifetime contribution to the arts in 1984. She received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame--for her work in both motion pictures and recording--in addition to a footprint on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Lena always fought back when opportunities presented themselves.
For example, during World War II, Lena had been slated to perform for segregated troops of U.S. servicemen. She was appalled to find that African American servicemen had been seated behind German prisoners of war, and refused to partake unless she could sing before an integrated group. As a compromise, Lena left the stage and sang directly in front of her African American counterparts, with the German prisoners of war to her rear.
Lena notably remained committed to bettering lives of the underserved and underrepresented for the entirety of her life. An active participant in the movement, Lena met President John F. Kennedy shortly before his assassination, marched in the March on Washington, and ultimately performed and spoke on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and National Council of Negro Women. Also notable is the work that she engaged in with Former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti- lynching laws. Lena was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.
Mr. Speaker, I ask that you join me in support of honoring Lena Horne posthumously with a Congressional Gold Medal, for her outstanding contributions to American culture and the Civil Rights Movement. A beautiful person inside-out, Lena willed her talent, intelligence, and fame to fight against discrimination, traversing her career on a road filled with pot holes full of racial bias and degradation. Lena represents the very best of American ideals and signifies the true purpose of the American Dream.