Twentieth-century racism tried hard to deny this great performer her voice—and failed.
Born into a distinguished African-American family, Horne was enrolled as an NAACP member at a young age. Despite her grandmother’s wishes but at her mother’s urging, she began to perform at the Cotton Club with Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. She also appeared on Broadway with the Noble Sissle Society Orchestra. More performances followed—along with racism. When Hollywood called, Horne hoped to fight some of that racism “by refusing to play / maids and mammies.” The films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather featured her stellar performances, but there was little else. Horne never forgot her roots, though, and sang for black troops during World War II. She also sang at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. On TV, Kermit the Frog was one of her partners. Recognition, honors, and awards were showered on Horne, who left a strong legacy. “Because Lena refused / to darken rear doors, / black stars now gleam / on red carpets / and reap box-office gold.” Weatherford’s writing is succinct and inspirational. Zunon’s oil paint and cut-paper–collage illustrations are more than a match for Horne’s dynamic onstage presence. Their dramatic design showcases a woman of great beauty and extraordinary talent.
A memorable life dedicated to music and civil rights, presented with commensurate style. (bibliography, further reading, listening, and viewing) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)