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Lena Horne Recognition Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. I thank my good friend for yielding the time, he and Mr. Luetkemeyer for bringing the measure forward.

I especially want to acknowledge Chairman Spencer Bachus and Ranking Member Barney Frank, as well as their respective staffs, for helping us in this matter. And a special shout-out to Tim Scott. Like Ms. Hayworth helped you with Raoul Wallenberg, TIM and Jennifer DeCasper, from his office, helped me to gain the number of signatures, as well as to acknowledge my young staffer, Erin Moffet, who learned an awful lot about Lena Horne along the way.

Mr. Speaker, obviously I'm in strong support of H.R. 1815, the Lena Horne Recognition Act, a bill to posthumously honor Lena Horne with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her many achievements and contributions to American culture and the civil rights movement.

I personally felt that I could not allow time to pass without honoring the life and legacy of Ms. Horne, who passed away on May 9, 2010, at the age of 92. Throughout her lifetime, Ms. Horne used her talent and fame to become a powerful voice for civil rights and equality.

It was quite a journey to get this legislation to the floor given the requirement that at least 290 Members of the House must cosponsor the bill. I introduced this bill on May 10, 2011, with the support from 23 other Members, and I'm proud to say today that there are now 308 bipartisan cosponsors, and the measure is also offered in the United States Senate.

While asking my colleagues to support this legislation to award Lena Horne with the Congressional Gold Medal, I was, in some respects, a little disappointed to see that too many people, both Members and staff, were not aware of who this remarkable woman was.

I hope that we can pass H.R. 1815 today and that the Senate will then subsequently pass this legislation and the President will sign this bill into law so that Lena Horne's legacy will finally be given the recognition it rightly deserves by posthumously awarding her with the Congressional Gold Medal. I know her daughter and members of the family--her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, I promised that I would call when it passed, and I shall.

Lena Horne was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime contribution to the arts in 1984, and in 1989 she received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her work in both motion pictures and recording. Additionally, she has a footprint on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.

Although these and other monumental awards and honors were bestowed upon her, Ms. Horne's life was not a story of smooth sailing. Her life was too often plagued by stormy weather, which ironically was the title of her signature song and one of the major films that she starred in. Footnote there: I was in the third grade in Jersey City, New Jersey, and my mother let me stay out of school to see my first motion picture, and I have a memory of it today that stayed with me throughout that time.

Born on June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn--not in Queens, GREGORY--Lena Mary
Calhoun Horne broke racial barriers through her career as a singer, dancer, and actress for 60 years.

Ms. Horne got her start at the age of 16 when she was hired as a chorus dancer at Harlem's famous Cotton Club. Then, at 19, she made her Broadway debut in dancing a feature role in ``Dance With Your Gods.''

Her path to stardom then led her to tour with Charlie Barnett's jazz band in the early 1940s, when she became one of the first black women to tour with an all-white band.

A few years later, after starting her career as a singer and a dancer, Ms. Horne was discovered by a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer talent scout, and moved to Hollywood to be an actress, becoming the first black artist to sign a long-term contract with a major studio.

Even given her extraordinary beauty and elegance and talent, she was often limited to minor acting roles because of her race. Among many lost opportunities was the role of Julie in the film adaptation of ``Show Boat.''

Ms. Horne had previously played this role in an adaptation of act 1 of ``Show Boat'' that was featured in the 1946 film ``Till the Clouds Roll By.'' But due to the Motion Picture Production Code not allowing the depiction of interracial relationships in film, the distinguished and famous Ava Gardner was cast in this role instead of Lena Horne.

Her fame in films was also limited due to the fact that during that time, many films were shot so that scenes in which black performers were featured could be easily edited out for Southern audiences. Even facing such discrimination, Ms. Horne's perseverance allowed her to overcome such obstacles and led her to dazzle audiences and critics in a number of major films.

Her lead roles included those in the musical ``Cabin in the Sky'' and the box office hit ``Stormy Weather,'' where Ms. Horne's remarkable performance of the title song in ``Stormy Weather'' became one of her most notable songs throughout her career. On her last tour, I saw her in Ft. Lauderdale, and she sang three iterations of that song; and the last one, indeed, as she said, was the most powerful. These two roles increased her visibility as well as sealed her legacy in the music and film industry.

The struggle for equal and fair treatment became an inseparable and increasingly political part of Ms. Horne's life even outside of the film industry. She toured extensively with the United Service Organizations in support of U.S. troops during World War II, where she was a major critic of the unfair treatment of black soldiers. Outspoken on the issue, Ms. Horne refused to sing for segregated audiences or to groups in which German prisoners of war were seated in front of the black U.S. servicemen.

Due to her civil rights activism on issues such as these, as well as her friendship with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, Ms. Horne found herself blacklisted during the period of McCarthyism.

While she continued to face discrimination in the film industry in the fifties, her career flourished in television and on nightclub stages across the country. During this time, she returned to her roots as a vocalist and established herself as a major recording artist.

In 1957, she recorded ``Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria,'' which became the best-selling album by a female singer in RCA Victor's history. Ms. Horne used the talent and fame she achieved through such acclaims to become a powerful voice for civil rights and equality. In 1963, she participated in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his immortal ``I Have a Dream'' speech.

She also performed at rallies throughout the country for the National Council for Negro Women, and worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP, of which she was the cover girl for their monthly bulletin at age 2.

Following her blacklisting from film in the fifties and disillusionment with the industry, Ms. Horne only returned to the screen three more times following the McCarthyism era, one of which was the film adaptation of ``The Wiz,'' in which she was cast as Glinda the Good Witch.

Then in 1981, Ms. Horne finally received the big break she had waited for her whole life, a one-woman Broadway show. ``Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music'' was the culmination of her triumphs and struggles. It enjoyed a 14-month run before going on tour and earned her a special Tony award for distinguished achievement in theater and two Grammys.

At the age of 80, Ms. Horne made the following statement, which I believe appropriately captures her legacy; and, Gail, this one is for you.

She stated that:

My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I'm free. I no longer have to be a credit. I don't have to be a symbol to anybody. I don't have to be a first to anybody. I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.

Mr. Speaker, Lena Horne was an extraordinary woman who refused to give up her dreams because of the color of her skin, and used her beauty, talent, elegance, and intelligence to fight racial discrimination. Her perseverance and accomplishments are truly inspirational, having taught us all how to weather the stormy periods of our lives.

I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of H.R. 1815, the Lena Horne Recognition Act, so that we may honor the life and legacy of Ms. Lena Horne with a Congressional Gold Medal and through this recognition inspire others with her story.

Someone wrote today, what do Lena Horne and Jack Nicklaus and Raoul Wallenberg have in common? It's my hope that what they will have in common today is each will be recognized for their distinguished achievements and heroic acts on behalf of our society.


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