In the 1940s, Horne was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a handful with a Hollywood contract. In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical 'Stormy Weather.' Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her signature piece.
"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," she said in Brian Lanker's book, 'I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.'
Horne was at home vocally with a wide musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in songs like 'The Lady Is a Tramp' and 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.'
By the mid-1950s, Horne -- who in 1947 married composer and musical director Lennie Hayton in a secret wedding in Paris, because interracial marriages were illegal in California -- left Hollywood, "bitter," she said, "at the whole Hollywood system," and went on to tremendous success as a stage actress and consummate jazz singer, PEOPLE reports.
In her first big Broadway success, as the star of 'Jamaica' in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her "one of the incomparable performers of our time." Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her "the best female singer of songs."
In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity as a revered icon of American popular music. Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, 'Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,' won a special Tony Award.
Widowed in 1971, Horne moved to New York City and continued her stage and concert work and even did the occasional movie role, including that of Diana Ross's fairy godmother in the 1978 'The Wiz.'
Horne's other roles included 'I Dood It,' a Red Skelton comedy, 'Thousands Cheer' and 'Swing Fever,' all in 1943; 'Broadway Rhythm' in 1944; and 'Ziegfeld Follies' in 1946.