This Day in Black History: May 9, 2010

American actress Lena Horne dies of heart failure.

Posted: 05/09/2014 12:00 AM EDT

Groundbreaking singer, dancer and actress Lena Horne, 92, died of heart failure at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on May 9, 2010. 

The legendary performer was the first African-American to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio when she joined MGM in 1942. 

Throughout her career, Horne had small singing roles in a number of film musicals, including Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) and Broadway Rhythm (1944), and more substantial parts in Cabin in the Sky (1940) and Stormy Weather (1943)—both of which are considered the best film musicals with an African-American cast. 

When her left-leaning politics led to her being blacklisted in Hollywood, she launched a successful career as a nightclub and recording star in the 1950s. Despite announcing her retirement in March 1980, Horne would make a triumphant return to the spotlight in a critically acclaimed, award-winning one-woman Broadway show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, the following year.

The civil rights movement also played a large role in Horne’s life. She attended a number of rallies and marches, including the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women. Eleanor Roosevelt also worked with Horne to pass anti-lynching laws.

Upon learning of her death, President Obama offered his condolences in a message, saying that Horne “worked tirelessly to further the cause of justice and equality.” 

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(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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