The 92 year-old entertainer started her six-decade career as a chorus girl at Harlem’s Cotton Club during the depression in 1933 and later went on to star in Hollywood musicals including “Stormy Weather,” in which she sang the signature song and became most known for.
She became the first black person to appear on the cover of a movie magazine, Motion Picture, as her appearance was deemed “safe” and “acceptable” by white Hollywood. “I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” Horne once said. “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.”
Born in Brooklyn to a upward middle-class family, her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP at the young age of 2. But Horne did not play an active role in race relations until 1945 when she turned her back on POW German soldiers to sing to Black American soldiers who were seated in back of them.
In the early ’60s, Horne became more active in the civil-rights movement, participating in a meeting with prominent blacks in 1963 with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the wake of violence in Birmingham, Ala., and singing at civil rights rallies.
Horne was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 1984, and received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1998.