On Sunday the legendary singer, actress, dancer and civil rights activist Lena Horne passed away at the ripe old age of 92. Horne joined the famous Cotton Club when she was 16 as a singer and later went on to become one of the first African American women to be in mainstream Hollywood films. She became a star with her hit movie and song ‘Stormy Weather’. Her success in Hollywood was due to the fact she was light skinned and didn’t threaten white audiences of the 30s and 40s with her overt ethnicity.
However, she was a fierce fighter for civil rights and was deeply hurt when her scenes in movies were cut when shown in the Deep South -due to the fact she was black. When asked if she ever considered passing for a white woman, as life would have been much easier she replied, “no never, my grandmother would never have forgiven me!” She also walked out of a USO tour during WWII when she noticed that black US soldiers were seated behind Nazi POWs. Her mantra was “accept me for who I am, do not try to typecast or compartmentalise me”, and she fought to enter buildings through the front door instead of the back as her colour dictated and to swim in unsegregated swimming pools.
I think we all owe a huge debt to Lena in terms of beauty and how we see ourselves. Without pioneers like Lena pathing the way for different types of beauty and ethnicity, we wouldn’t have JLO and her Puerto Rican bottom or Grace Jones and her ebony skin or Beyonce and her shimmering golden goddessness. I salute you Lena for being an amazing artist, inspiration and the epitome of beauty, which is acceptance and celebration of whoever you are without any limits.