Jennifer Holliday and Lena Horne
(Photos: Michael Moorer Photography and Friedman-Abeles/NYPL; Graphic design by Ryan Casey for Broadway.com)
In honor of Black History Month, Broadway.com is once again inviting Broadway artists to celebrate the Black theatermakers who inspire them. Stars are taking this chance to honor their friends, mentors, co-stars and idols for this year’s edition. Read on to learn about Tony winner Jennifer Holliday’s inspirational encounter with a legend, and click here to stay up to date on the series.
Jennifer Holliday is known for her unforgettable Tony-winning turn as Effie White in Dreamgirls. Her other Broadway credits include the recent revival of The Color Purple, Chicago, Grease and more. She is also a Grammy winner for the hit song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls in 1983 as well as her 1986 performance of “Come Sunday.” Holliday has seven studio albums and three compilation albums to her name. Recently, Holliday celebrated her birthday with a starry virtual event. Here, the talented performer remembers meeting the trailblazing Lena Horne.
Born in 1917 in Brooklyn, Lena Horne was a singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activist. She grew up traveling with her mother, who was a member of a Black theater troupe, and joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of 16 before becoming a Hollywood nightclub performer. Horne made her first screen appearance as a dancer in the musical short Cab Calloway’s Jitterbug Party in 1935 and was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1942. She appeared in a number of MGM musicals, but her only leading role was in the all-Black 1943 musical Cabin in the Sky. She is known for her performances as Glinda in The Wiz (1978), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) and more. On Broadway, Horne was nominated for a Tony Award for her leading role in 1957’s Jamaica. Her other stage credits include Dance With Your Gods (1934), Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939 (1939), and Tony & Lena Sing (1974). Horne returned to the stage for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, a musical revue that played for over 300 performances at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre. Horne garnered a Special Tony Award for the performance and also won two Grammy Awards for the show’s album. In 1989, Horne received Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and in 1995, she took home the trophy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her album, An Evening with Lena Horne. Horne died of congestive heart failure on May 9, 2010. In 2018, a forever stamp depicting Horne was issued, making her the 41st honoree in the Black Heritage stamp series.
Holliday on Horne: “Forty years ago, I had the great honor and privilege to meet the beautiful Ms. Lena Horne. I was truly inspired after seeing her electrifying performance in The Lady and Her Music, which opened on Broadway in 1981. Only 20 years old at the time, I was still in the midst of rehearsals for Dreamgirls while it was running, and Harold Wheeler, who was the musical director for both Ms. Horne and Dreamgirls, arranged for me to attend one of Ms. Horne’s private rehearsals and spend a few personal moments with her. She didn’t know a lot about me when I met her, nor had she ever heard me sing, but I’ll never forget how so very gracious she was to me and how she took those few precious moments of her time to encourage me. Gratefully, Ms. Horne finally got a chance to hear me sing when she came to see Dreamgirls that following year. After the show she gave me a warm hug and said to me, ‘Honey chile, and I am telling you, your performance was absolutely amazing!'”