Lena Horne, the jazz singer and actress who became a star even while suffering the indignities of racism, died Sunday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. She was 92.

A hospital spokeswoman, Gloria Chin, would not release details.

Classically beautiful and almost regal in her composure, Horne was one of the first black singers to perform with an all-white band, led by Charlie Barnet, and one of the first black actors to secure a major studio contract, with MGM, during the 1940s. Her rendition of "Stormy Weather," in the 1943 movie musical of the same name, turned her into a star, but offstage Horne encountered the same slurs and humiliations that plagued blacks everywhere.

"I 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," she said in Brian Lanker's book "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

Horne later used her voice in the service of civil rights, joining the 1963 march on Washington, D.C., that marked Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech. And although the losses of her father, husband and son in the early 1970s led her to leave the spotlight, she emerged again in the 1980s to re-establish herself as one of the defining voices of American jazz, alongside Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

"I knew her from the time I was born, and whenever I needed anything, she was there. She was funny, sophisticated and truly one of a kind. We lost an original," Liza Minnelli, whose father, Vincente Minnelli, directed Horne in a breakout role in the 1943 musical "Cabin in the Sky," told The Associated Press Monday.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Horne's voice, initially clear and resonant in the classic show-business mold, eventually grew more forceful and distinctive, perhaps reflecting her increasing anger at racism and her decreasing ability to tolerate it. For her 1981 stage show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," which won two Grammy Awards and a special Tony award, she sang two versions of "Stormy Weather" - one much as audiences first heard it in 1943, the other full of wrenching emotion.

"She was a very angry woman," the film critic Richard Schickel, who worked with Horne on her 1965 autobiography, said Monday. "She was a woman who had a very powerful desire to lead her own life, to not be cautious and to speak out. And she was a woman, also, who felt in her career that she had been held back by the issue of race."

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood to a well-regarded family that claimed European, American Indian and African-American bloodlines. Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne Jr., worked for the New York State Department of Labor; her mother, Edna Louise Horne, was an aspiring actress. It was she who helped 16-year-old Horne land a job as a chorus girl at Harlem's Cotton Club.

A burgeoning musical career followed - initially under the name Helena Horne - and a move to Los Angeles led to a contract with MGM Studios. Still, many of Horne's parts were musical numbers that could be easily excised for Southern audiences without affecting a film's story.

There were many such moments in Horne's life as an African-American entertainer. She raised a ruckus at a 1945 Army base show where white German prisoners had better seats than black American soldiers. She received death threats after her marriage to a white man, the MGM composer-arranger Lennie Hayton, became public. Her friendship with the black protest singer Paul Robeson effectively ended her Hollywood career during the McCarthyist 1950s. And in a famous 1960 incident at a swanky Beverly Hills restaurant, she threw a table lamp, ashtray and several glasses at a patron who tagged her with a racial slur.

"There wouldn't be a Halle Berry or an Angela Bassett or a Cicely Tyson if there hadn't been a Lena Horne," said singer-actress Dee Dee Bridgewater. "She crossed the color barriers, even though she had to fight to get there."