Those who know Broadway, have heard of the Gershwin and Shubert theaters, which are New York institutions in and of themselves. But there’s never been a Broadway theater named for a Black woman, until now. The honor was bestowed on Lena Horne this week.
According to NBC News, “the Brooks Atkinson Theater on West 47th Street, near Broadway in Manhattan’s Theater District, was renamed the Lena Horne Theater on Tuesday in recognition of Horne, the famed performer and civil rights activist.”
She’s only the third Black person to have a Broadway theater bear her name.
The Theater's Original Name
The theater had two other names first.
Upon being built in 1926, it was called Mansfield Theater.
In 1960, it was renamed Brooks Atkinson Theater, in honor of drama critic Brooks Atkinson.
Now, Horne’s name appears on the marquee.
She Was A Legend
Horne was the quintessential Renaissance woman, who sang, danced, and acted. She was also an activist.
She got her start in show business at 16, when she joined the Cotton Club in Harlem to perform.
According to Biography, “she signed with MGM studios and became known as one of the top African American performers of her time, seen in such films as Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. She was also known for her work with civil rights groups and refused to play roles that stereotyped African American women, a stance that many found controversial.”
Her last film appearance was alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz.
Her Left-Leaning Activism Proved Costly
When McCarthyism had the U.S. in a chokehold, many prominent figures were blacklisted. Black performers such as Lena and Paul Robeson were among them.
Biography noted, “Horne still performed primarily in posh nightclubs around the country as well as Europe and was also able to make some TV appearances. The ban had eased by the mid-1950s, and Horne returned to the screen in the 1956 comedy Meet Me in Las Vegas, though she would not act in another film for more than a decade.
She Was A Decorated Performer Until Her Death
NBC News reported, “Horne won several awards, including two Grammys, in 1982 and 1996, along with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. In 1965, she released a memoir titled “Lena.”
She died in 2010 in New York of heart failure.
Lena Is The Third Black Person To Get The Broadway Honor
In 2005, the Virginia Theater was renamed after playwright August Wilson.
17 years later, Cort Theater on West 48th Street was renamed the James Earl Jones Theater.
For millennials, Jones is best known as the voice of Mufasa in both film versions of The Lion King, and Darth Vader. But his foray into show business was decades earlier.