Lena Horne

Lena Horne, the jazz singer, actress and civil rights activist who became the first African-American performer to be put under contract by a major movie studio in 1942, has died. She was 92.

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Horne died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday, according to The Associated Press. No details of her death have been released.

She was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among the few to earn a Hollywood contract.

Horne's career highlights included collaborations with Tony Bennett, as well as Grammy-winning recordings of her Vegas nightclub act The Lady and Her Music, Live on Broadway (for which she won an honorary Tony) and An Evening With Lena Horne. She was also nominated for a Tony for her performance in Calypso.

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Horne acknowledged that her beauty and sex appeal helped contribute to her success. "I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," she 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."

Over her six-decade career, Horne starred in films including Stormy Weather (1943), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), and Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956). She starred in recurring roles on television's The Muppet Show and The Cosby Show.

Despite some criticism that Horne used her light complexion to "pass" in a white world, Horne often spoke out about racism and was dedicated to her advocacy for civil rights.

"I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out ... it was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world," Horne said in Brian Lanker's book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.

She fought for desegregation alongside such legends of the civil rights movement as Paul Robeson and Medgar Evers, and fought with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in an upper-middle-class black community of Pittsburgh, Horne joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club at 16 and toured with Noble Sissle's Orchestra a few years later. 

Horne is survived by daughter Gail Lumet Buckley and granddaughter Jenny Lumet, who wrote the screenplay for Rachel Getting Married. Horne's husband, arranger-conductor Lennie Hayton, and her son died in the early 1970s.