Nationwide – Lena Horne became the first Black woman in U.S. history to have a Broadway theater named in her honor on Tuesday, November 1, 2022. The Nederlander Organization, under the leadership of James L. Nederlander renamed Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre for the legendary entertainer and civil rights activist Lena Horne.
James (Jimmy) L. Nederlander’s father, James M. Nederlander, was instrumental as one of the lead producers of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music which played at the Nederlander Theatre in 1981. The show was an instant success and was extended to a full year run, garnering Horne a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording of her show.
“We are proud to take this moment to rename one of our theaters in honor of the great civil rights activist, actress, and entertainer Lena Horne,” said James L. Nederlander of The Nederlander Organization. “I am so honored to have known Lena. She became a part of our family over the years. It means so much to me that my father was the producer of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, and it is my privilege, honor, and duty to memorialize Lena for generations to come.”
Gail Lumet Buckley, Lena’s daughter, and the Horne Family adds, “On February 13, 1939, Brooks Atkinson wrote a review of the musical Blackbirds of 1939 for The New York Times. His review was generally unfavorable except for the mention of ‘a radiantly beautiful girl, Lena Horne, who will be a winner once she has proper direction.’ The proper direction came from within Lena herself. She sought an artistic education, and a political education. She sought her own voice, found it, and then fought for the right that was always denied her – the right to tell her own story. In 1981, James M. Nederlander offered her their stage and Lena’s one-woman show, The Lady and Her Music ran for more than a year. 366 performances, in three countries. It was her fullest expression as an artist and storyteller. We’re grateful to the Nederlander Organization for rechristening this space to the Lena Horne Theatre. We hope artists and audiences alike will tell their own stories here.”
The Mayor of the City of New York, Eric Adams, praised the news noting, “As a daughter of Brooklyn, a civil rights leader, an artist, and an activist, there is no one who embodies the spirit of this great city more than Lena Horne. With this renaming, an iconic New Yorker will rightly take her place amongst an iconic New York industry while being introduced to new generations as they visit this beautiful theater. This is a fantastic decision by Jimmy Nederlander and the Nederlander Organization, and I look forward to continuing to support all of our great venues as we recover from COVID and once again welcome the world to our doorstep.”
Celebrated six-time Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald notes, “I am overjoyed that the Nederlander Organization is honoring Lena Horne’s powerful legacy by renaming a theater in her honor. Representation is everything. A Black woman being recognized and memorialized in this way is powerful. Lena Horne was a woman of fierce talent, incredible strength, and profound conviction. With the utmost grace, she broke down barriers. Beyond her indelible work on stage and screen, she was a civil rights activist who continues to inspire many of us today. Newly christened with her name, the Lena Horne Theatre will affirm that Black women and girls are seen; we are heard, we BELONG and when we stand in her theatre we will stand even taller on her mighty shoulders and her enduring legacy. This is truly a historic day.”
“Lena Horne devoted her life to theater and the entertainment industry for seven decades,” said Tony Award-winning actress LaChanze. “She was a pioneer. A trailblazer. An inspiration to so many of us who stand on her shoulders to this day. She was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, using her platform to speak up for equality. And in the time of the global demand for inclusivity, I am deeply grateful that the Nederlander Organization has committed to being a part of this movement by renaming one of their theater’s honoring the life and legacy of Lena Horne.”
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an iconic African-American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. She was born in Brooklyn to Edwin Fletcher “Teddy” Horne Jr. and Edna Louise Scottron. In 1933, she joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York City, which launched her early career in film and on stage. She later joined Noble Sissie’s Orchestra and recorded her first album with Decca records. Over the next decade, she performed in a number of films, including Panama Hattie, Stormy Weather, and Cabin in the Sky. Horne was not featured in a leading role in many of her films due to her ethnicity, which would have required re-editing to be shown in cities that would not show films with black performers. Despite this, Horne was the first African-American person elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.
By the 1950s, Lena Horne decided to move away from film and to focus on her stage career, mainly in night clubs. She recorded a live album, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, which was the biggest-selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA Victor label at that time. In 1958, Horne became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in the musical Jamaica.
Lena Horne was an avid civil rights activist throughout her career. She entertained troops for the USO, but refused to perform for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of Black servicemen. Horne worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to lobby Congress to enact anti-lynching legislation and attended the March on Washington. She also spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women.
In 1980, she was scheduled to appear at a Metropolitan Opera Gala starring Luciano Pavarotti when Pavarotti’s plane was diverted and he was unable to appear. Lena went on to perform to a sold-out house, where only three patrons asked for their money back due to Pavarotti’s absence. James M. Nederlander was in the audience that night and immediately asked to be introduced to Ms. Horne. A year later, Nederlander booked Horne into the Nederlander Theatre on West 41st Street in New York City for four weeks. Those four weeks turned into a year-long run, for which Lena Horne received a special Tony Award, and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording for her show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.
Lena Horne went on to record two more albums and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award before retiring from performing. She passed away on May 9, 2010 and leaves behind a strong legacy of perseverance, independence, and talent. She fought for her own rights and the rights of those around her, using her most powerful asset – her voice. She was a pioneer who blazed a trail of “firsts” to pave the way for those who came after her.
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