Entertainer Lena Horne Honored by Yale University

Entertainer Lena Horne was one of nine distinguished individuals awarded honorary degrees today at Yale University Commencement ceremonies. She received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Other honorary degree recipients were His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, who received a Doctor of Divinity degree; Gerda Lerner, historian, Doctor of Letters; David McCullough, Yale Class of 1955, author, Doctor of Letters; Sadako Ogata, humanitarian, Doctor of Humane Letters; Frederick P. Rose, Yale Class of 1944 Engineering, volunteer leader and philanthropist, Doctor of Humane Letters; Robert L. Shaw, conductor, Doctor of Music; Edward O. Wilson, scientist and author, Doctor of Science; and Muhammad Yunus, economist, Doctor of Social Sciences.

Lena Horne has thrilled stage and screen audiences throughout the world for more than 50 years. She began at age 16 as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club, later launching her solo career at Cafe Society, the first New York night spot to welcome racially mixed audiences. In the 1940s, she became the first African-American performer under a long-term contract with MGM, appearing in such films as “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather.” Nevertheless, she found herself facing limited roles that often perpetuated demeaning racial stereotypes. She steadfastly refused these roles, and the studio eventually laid her off. Horne was later barred from Hollywood during the McCarthy era and became a nightclub sensation abroad, returning to the United States in the late 1950s to work on Broadway and, later, television. In 1981, she electrified Broadway with her one-woman show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.”

An activist in the 1960s civil rights movement, Horne continues to promote expanded opportunities for African-Americans. Her awards and honors include the Paul Robeson Award from Actor’s Equity, Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime contributions to the arts, a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement, a special Tony Award and the Ella Fitzgerald Award from the Society of Singers.

The Yale citation reads: “You once said you wanted to be a teacher instead of a singer. You have been both, because we have all learned from you, from your music, from your films, and from your social activism. In the stormy weather of a segregated society, you were a pioneer who refused to be stereotyped. A singer of legendary status, your artistic achievement continues to amaze and delight us, winning new generations of admirers. You are elegant, gifted, and courageous, and we sing your praises by conferring this degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.”

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