Reintroduction of the Lena Horne Recognition Actby Representative Alcee L. Hastings
Posted on 2013-02-14
in the house of representatives
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to reintroduce the
Lena Horne Recognition Act. This bill would award Lena Horne with a
Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her achievements and
contributions to American culture and the Civil Rights Movement. A
symbol of elegance and grace, Lena
Horne created a legacy by not only entertaining Americans for over 60
years, but by breaking many racial barriers as a singer, dancer, and
actress. Ms. Horne passed away in New York City on May 9, 2010 at the
age of 92.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born on June 30, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. Her path to international stardom began in Harlem's Cotton Club, where she was first hired as a chorus dancer at the age of 16. From there, her career continued in Charlie Barney's jazz band, where she became one of the first African-American women to tour with an all white band, to Hollywood and Broadway.
In the 1940s, Ms. Horne was discovered by a Metro Gold Mayer talent scout and moved to Hollywood to be an actress. She was the first black artist to sign a long-term contract with a major studio. Despite her beauty and talent, however, she was limited to minor acting roles because of her race. She was passed over for the role of Julie in the movie Show Boat because the studio did not want the film to star a black actress, and the Motion Picture Code did not allow the depiction of interracial relationships. Nonetheless, she dazzled audiences and critics in a number of films, including Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.
The struggle for equal and fair treatment was an inseparable and increasingly political part of Ms. Horne's life. During WWII, she toured extensively with the United Service Organizations on the West Coast and in the South in support of the troops. Ms. Horne was outspoken in her criticism of the way black soldiers were treated. She refused to sing for segregated audiences or to groups where German prisoners of war were seated in front of the African-American servicemen.
During the period of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Ms. Horne was blacklisted as a communist for seven years due to her civil rights activism and her friendships with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois. Despite facing continued discrimination, Ms. Horne's career flourished in television and onstage throughout the country. It was during this time that she also established herself as a major recording artist. In 1957, she recorded Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria, which reached the Top 10 and became the best selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor's history.
Ms. Horne used her talent and fame to become a powerful voice for civil rights and equality. In 1963, she participated in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She also performed at rallies throughout the country for the National Council for Negro Women and worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Ms. Horne finally received the break she had been waiting for her in 1981, which was a one woman Broadway show. Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, was the culmination of her triumphs and struggles. The show enjoyed a 14-month run and earned her a Tony Award and two Grammy Awards.
Furthermore, she received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in both motion pictures and recordings, as well as a footprint on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.
Mr. Speaker, Lena Horne was an extraordinary woman who refused to give up her dreams and used her beauty, talent, and intelligence to fight racial discrimination. I urge my colleagues to support the Lena Horne recognition Act, in order to honor her life and legacy with a Congressional Gold Medal.