Singer/actress Lena Horne's primary occupation was nightclub entertaining, a profession she pursued successfully around the world for more than 60 years, from the 1930s to the 1990s. In conjunction with her club work, she also maintained a recording career that stretched from 1936 to 2000 and brought her three Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989; she appeared in 16 feature films and several shorts between 1938 and 1978; she performed occasionally on Broadway, including in her own Tony-winning one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music in 1981-1982; and she sang and acted on radio and television. Adding to the challenge of maintaining such a career was her position as an African-American facing discrimination
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She stayed there until September 1932, when her grandmother died, then went to live with a family friend. While attending Girls High School in Brooklyn, she also took dancing lessons, even playing with a group at the Harlem Opera House for a week in 1933. Her mother, meanwhile, had been living in Cuba, where she had remarried. She returned to New York and reclaimed her daughter. They lived in Brooklyn, then moved to the Bronx, and eventually Harlem. Money was tight in those Depression years, and Horne's mother obtained an audition for her at the Cotton Club through a friend. She was hired as a chorus girl at the club at the age of 16.
Horne first attracted attention beyond the chorus when she replaced a sick performer in a performance of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "As Long As I Live" with Avon Long. Soon after, she sang "Cocktails for Two" with Claude Hopkins & His Orchestra on a theater date with the Cotton Club troupe, and she began taking singing lessons. She was spotted at the Cotton Club by a theatrical producer and cast in a small part in the play Dance With Your Gods, which opened a brief run on October 6, 1934, marking her Broadway debut. In 1935, she left the Cotton Club and took a job singing with Noble Sissle & His Orchestra, billed as Helena Horne. She made her recording debut with Sissle on March 11, 1936, singing "That's What Love Did to Me" and "I Take to You," both released by Decca Records.