By Michael Ventura
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN — Lena Horne, the legendary singer and actress who got her start in Harlem and broke down racial barriers in Hollywood, is dead at 92.
She had lived in Manhattan for years, and died Sunday at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Horne, who was born in Brooklyn, got her start in show business performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem when she was 16. Her big break came when she was hired in 1941 by NBC as a featured singer on a jazz series.
In 1942, she became the first black performer to sign a long-term Hollywood contract. Among her first movies was the all-black version of "Stormy Weather," the title song of which became one of her signatures, the New York Post reported.
She was cast in a series of musicals, but her performances were cut out of the films when they were screened in the South because audiences there wouldn't tolerate blacks in significant roles, the New York Times reported. Horne found more acceptance on TV musical and variety shows.
"I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," she once said, according to the Daily News. "I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked."
Later, she became an outspoken civil rights advocate.
"I wouldn't work for places that kept us out," Horne once said, the Post reported. "It was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world."
When Halle Berry won the Best Actress Academy Award in 2002, she thanked Horne for paving her way.
Her first Broadway show was "Jamaica," in 1957, and the last movie she appeared in was "The Wiz" in 1978, where she played Glenda the Good Witch in the all-black version of "The Wizard of Oz."
In 1981, she won a Tony Award for her one-woman show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music."
She is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley.
“My identity is very clear to me now," she told the Times, looking back on her life at age 80. "I am a black woman. I’m free. I no longer have to be a ‘credit.’ I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”