Lena! Just Lena–and the Horne automatically followed. There was only one Lena Horne and her angelic voice and stunning beauty are now part of the ages. She died May 9, 2011 at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She was 92 and lived in Manhattan–though Queens, according to Councilman Leroy Comrie, has some claims on her fame.
But Harlem and the rest of the world can also claim Lena. Since the early ’40s, when her gorgeous face and her sonorous voice first appeared on the screen, she belonged to the world.
“In 1940, she became the first African-American performer to tour with an all-white band,” said President Barack Obama. “And while entertaining soldiers during World War II, she refused to perform for segregated audiences–a principled struggle she continued well after the troops returned home. Michelle and I offer our condolences to all those who knew and loved Lena, and we join all Americans in appreciating the joy she brought to our lives and the progress she forged for our country.”
That progress took place on a number of cultural and political fronts. And it began almost before she was out of the cradle, when, at 2 years of age, her photo adorned the cover of the NAACP’s Crisis magazine. Sixty-four years later, in 1983, she was awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for her outstanding work in civil and human rights.
Lena was one of just a few major Black entertainers who resourcefully saw no separation between their artistic careers and social and political activism. In this manner, she followed a path blazed by Paul Robeson, whom she met and befriended when she was just beginning to earn recognition as a singer.
HARLEM | NEW YORK CITY
Harlem is a large neighborhood in the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Since the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Harlem’s history has been defined by a series of economic boom-and-bust cycles, with significant population shifts accompanying each cycle.
African-American residents began to arrive in large numbers in 1905 as part of the Great Migration. In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem were the focus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic work without precedent in the American black community. However, with job losses in the time of the Great Depression and the deindustrialization of New York City after World War II, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly. Harlem’s African-American population peaked in the 1950s. In the second half of the 20th century, Harlem became a major hub of African-American businesses. In 2008, the United States Census found that for the first time since the 1930s, less than half of the residents were black, comprising only 40% of the population.
Since New York City’s revival in the late 20th century, Harlem has been experiencing the effects of gentrification and new wealth. (Wikipedia).