Lena Horne, the sultry songstress who helped define both beauty and grit for generations of African-Americans straddling the civil rights era, was eulogized at her funeral Friday as a shy girl from Brooklyn who used her stature to challenge the racial status quo.
The 90-minute service for Horne, a former Cotton Club dancer who rocketed to stardom in 1943 by singing the title song in the film "Stormy Weather," drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue, where Horne often attended Easter services.
"It was what she chose to do with those blessings that earned her such a special place in our history and in our hearts," said former Mayor David Dinkins, one of several notables who addressed an audience that included many for whom Horne paved the way, including Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick, Cicely Tyson and Leslie Uggams.
"She was so many ideas existing all at the same time in the same space and they were all conflicting and they were all true," said her granddaughter Jenny Lumet.
Horne, who died Sunday in Manhattan at 92, was remembered as a top draw at New York jazz clubs and as one of the first black performers to sign a Hollywood contract.
But her social activism got her blacklisted by Hollywood, and despite her talent and smashing good looks - she had European, African-American and Native American roots - she never achieved the screen career she once seemed destined for.
"She put her future on the line to take a stand for civil and human rights," said civil rights leader turned Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.). "Even though she was elected and rejected by Hollywood . . . she did not turn her face from injustice."
Roscoe Brown, a commander among the first group of black pilots in the U.S. military - known as the Tuskegee Airmen - recalled that Horne once performed for the fliers and was photographed with several of them. Brown said the pilots would often carry her photo in flight. "She became our pinup girl," he said to laughter.
"This wonderful, beautiful lady, Lena Horne, came to visit us," Brown told mourners. "She sang, she talked with us and she made us all her boyfriends."
Horne became active in civil rights in 1945, when she performed at a USO show in which German prisoners of war were given seating preference over black GIs. Brown said Horne refused to sing if the audience was segregated, and credited her with helping "integrate the military."
After the funeral, Warwick said her father once gave her advice on going into show business. "I hope you're going to be like Lena," Warwick recalled her father saying. "All dignity and class." With AP