More than 300 people packed themselves into Doyle New York Thursday night to get a rare view at a piece of Black history: the preview for the auction of the estate of the legendary performer and civil rights pioneer Lena Horne.
Horne’s amazing possessions revealed her as a passionate collector with elegant taste. The collection was comprised of approximately 200 lots, including vintage costume jewelry, accessories, gowns, memorabilia, decorations, silver, furniture, books, and fine art from her home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Also featured are jewelry by Chanel and Deanna Hambro, two Louis Vuitton trunks, photographs by James Van Der Zee and Carl Van Vechten, and works by famed African-American painters Charles Alston and David Burliuk.
Joining Kathy Doyle, chairman of Doyle New York, as hosts of the event were Lena Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley and Jonelle Procope, president and CEO of the Apollo Theater. Also in attendance were many other pillars of the African-American community, including legendary performers Cicely Tyson, Geoffrey Holder, Ruby Dee, and activists Benjamin Jealous (president and CEO of the NAACP), Roslyn Brock (chairman of the NAACP); all of whom were touched by Horne’s influence in both the arts and “the struggle.”
A renowned jazz singer and Hollywood actress, Horne was a pioneer in the civil rights movement, marching on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and with Medgar Evers just days before his assassination.
Born in Brooklyn, Horne became socially active at the age of 2 when her grandmother registered her as a member of the NAACP. She began her stage career at the age of 16 when she joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in Harlem.
Throughout her illustrious career Horne was a woman of many firsts: In the 1940s she was one of the first Black performers hired to sing with a major white band, and the first to play the Copacabana nightclub in New York. She became the first Black actress to sign a major Hollywood contract, but even though she was one of the few Black actresses with leading-woman status in films like “Stormy Weather” and “Cabin in the Sky,” many of Horne’s scenes in her other films were musical numbers that would be cut when they were shown to audiences in the racially insensitive South.
Continuously facing racism throughout her career, Horne told Brian Lanker for his book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America that she “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.”
Lena Horne died in May 2010 at the age of 92.
Image courtesy of Doyle New York