(NBC) – The first African American performer to be signed to a long-term contract by a major Hollywood studio has passed away.
Singer-actress Lena Horne died Sunday at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York at the age of 92.
The star of stage and screen had a classic beauty that was much more than skin deep.
Horne was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, NY, into stormy circumstances. Her father, a bookie, and mother, an actress, traveling with a black theater group left young Lena to be raised by her middle class grandparents.
Against family wishes, she joined the chorus line at Harlem's famous "Cotton Club" at the age of 16.
Dancing and singing at top new York night clubs got her a staring role as the flashy seductress in the all-black movie "Cabin In The Sky."
In 1947 she signed with MGM Studios making her the highest paid black entertainer in Hollywood.
But she did not like the movie roles that limited her to singing songs, songs that could be edited out when the films were shown in the South.
Horne was outspoken on civil rights issues, and it cost her jobs during the 50s and 60s.
She returned to the stage in 1981; her one-woman Broadway show set records and earned her a Tony Award and two Grammys.
Lena Horne continued doing TV and movie appearances, writing books and recording well into her 80x, her legendary beauty as much intact as her extraordinary talent