Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.
Lena Horne was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 30, 1917 (she is seen here at Lena Horne Homecoming Day in August 1947). She dropped out of school at 16 to support her ailing mother and joined the chorus line at Harlem's famed Cotton Club. She left the club in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle's orchestra. Between 1937 and 1944, she was married to preacher's son Louis Jones, with whom she had children Gail and Edwin. After several years of singing on tour with various jazz orchestras, she signed with MGM.
The 1943 MGM musical Cabin in the Sky broke ground with an all-black cast, and Horne in the starring role as seductress Georgia Brown.
In 1943, Horne played Selina Rogers in the all-black musical film Stormy Weather. Her rendition of the title song became a major hit.
Racism in Hollywood severely limited the film roles that Horne was able to play. She was regarded as too light-skinned for many of the black roles, and too black to play the role of the mixed-race ingenue (roles such as Julie in Showboat went to white actresses instead). She refused to play stereotypical roles such as maids.
Horne married MGM music director Lennie Hayton in Paris in 1947. Hayton was white, but despite the pressures of an interracial marriage, they stayed together until his death in 1971.
Horne lent her voice not only to classic records, but also to social causes. She is pictured attending a dinner with Harry Belafonte in June 1970, supporting Andrew Young for Congress.
Horne's 1978 performance as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz, where she sang "Believe in Yourself," added a rare spark of magic to a film that was well-intentioned, but frequently tedious.
Horne left her mark from Paris to the United Kingdom. She is pictured here with Welsh singer Shirley Bassey in London in 1984 at the Adelphi Theater.
Horne had a lifelong relationship with the NAACP, starting with her appearance on the cover of its magazine, The Crisis, at the age of 2. Throughout her life, she championed the cause of civil rights and was even blacklisted in the 1950s for her activities. Here, she is shown with comedian Bill Cosby at the NAACP's 70th Annual Spingarn Awards in New York City in 1985.
In addition to her talent and courage, Horne was known for her ageless beauty. Here she is in 1994, at the age of 77, with her granddaughter, Jenny Lumet.
Horne has encouraged other top African-American vocalists throughout their careers, including pop icon Whitney Houston. The two were pictured together here on New Year's Day in 1990.
From her old block in Brooklyn to the world-famous Sesame Street, Horne showed Kermit the Frog and thousands of American viewers that it may not be easy being green, but it sure can look and sound good.
The same vocal cords that belted out the classic "Stormy Weather" were still churning out hits in the 1990s. In 1995, she won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for the disc, An Evening with Lena Horne.
She graced the campus of TV's favorite HBCU to drop a few gems of wisdom during Whitley Gilbert's music class in A Different World: "Everything good comes from something that came before."
The image is iconic, representing black Hollywood before and after segregation. Here, she is a symbol of heroism for all the black performers who came after her.