Lena Horne

Money was tight for lots of people during the Great Depression, including the family of 16-year-old Lena Horne, who in 1933 auditioned as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York. She passed the audition and started performing three shows a night — the last show began at 2 a.m. — as well as appearing with the chorus line at business conventions and nearby vaudeville theaters. She made $25 a week — a lot of money at the time and much more than salesclerks and secretaries made. Because of the hours she worked, she stopped attending her high school classes. A truant officer visited her home, and he discovered where Lena was working, but he did the very good deed of not forcing her to attend classes because, according to Ms. Horne, he knew that she was the principal financial support of her family. By the way, her grandmother, Cora Horne, was known as the “Tiny Terror.” Whenever she saw boys who were hanging around street corners instead of going to school, she loudly scolded them. Ms. Horne fought racial prejudice. For example, she protested when white German prisoners of war were seated in front while black American soldiers were seated in back at one of her USO appearances during World War II. When Ms. Horne discovered discrimination at the Copacabana in New York while she appeared there — the nightclub accepted the reservations of blacks over the telephone, but when the blacks showed up, they were told that their reservations had been “lost” — she added a nondiscrimination clause to her contracts. Some white people supported her despite the prejudice of other white people. Despite being a famous entertainer, when she moved into a new home, some of her new neighbors circulated a petition to get her to leave. Fortunately, other neighbors — such as actors Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre — supported her and made the petition disappear.

For Further Information: Leslie Palmer, Lena Horne: Entertainer, pp. 11, 17, 24, 89-90, 95.

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