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date: 22 October 2019

Horne, Lena Mary Calhounlocked

(30 June 1917–09 May 2010)
  • Barry Kernfeld

Extract

Horne, Lena Mary Calhoun (30 June 1917–09 May 2010), popular singer, and stage and screen actress, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Teddy Horne (Edwin Horne, Jr.), a gambler, and Edna Scottron, an aspiring actress. Both parents came from racially mixed families identifying with the African American bourgeoisie. Horne’s upbringing was emotionally disastrous. By 1920 Teddy had left to pursue gambling on the West Coast. He divorced and remarried, thereafter making only rare appearances in Lena’s life. She was shuttled back and forth between a strict, unloving grandmother, Cora Horne, and Edna, who impulsively dumped her daughter off into informal and sometimes abusive caretaking arrangements while pursuing a succession of failed acting schemes in New York and the South. The horrible outcome, for Lena, was a lifelong inability to love and trust. But these childhood experiences also provided the foundation for her career, because in the course of her peripatetic upbringing she was immersed in three separate streams of American culture: the mainstream sweetness of prewar popular music, conveying sentimental notions of romance and courtship; the cutting-edge urban hipness of Harlem; and the dialect and blues-oriented traditions of the African American South....

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