The marquee of the Lena Horne Theater (Photo: Ruthie Fierberg)

The Lena Horne Theater is the last house on Broadway to be renamed for a black performer. On November 1, the venue, owned by the Nederlander Organization and current home of ‘Six’, unveiled its new marquee at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and block party outside the theater on 47th Street. .

Led by Broadway royalty (LaChanze, Audra McDonald, Tamara Tunie and Vanessa Williams – all founding members of Black Theater United), speakers at the event also included industry stalwarts (James L. Nederlander and Nick Scandalios) , those in political power (Governor Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and NAACP Vice President Karen Boykin-Towns), and members of Horne’s family (including granddaughter Jenny Lumet).

“The Lena,” as Nederlander executive vice president Scandalios said the house will be dubbed, marks the second Broadway theater to be renamed this season, as part of the New Deal for Broadway brokered by Black Theater United. The agreement stated that “the Shubert organization, the Nederlander organization and the Jujamcyn theaters will each have at least one of their theaters named after a black performer”. Jujamcyn is a long-time owner of the August Wilson Theater; The Shubert Organization renamed its Cort Theater the James Earl Jones Theater in September. The Lena (formerly the Brooks Atkinson) is the first Broadway theater to be named after a black performer.

The Nederlander Organization chose Horne, in particular, as the theater’s namesake because of “his career, his civil rights activism, and his personal connection” to the Dutch people. “Lena and my father [James M. Nederlander] had deep mutual respect,” James L. Nederlander said in his remarks. “She was a sensational performer who opened her heart to my father and me. As a producer on ‘[Lena Horne:] The Lady and Her Music,” the only advice my dad gave her was, “Lena, do what you do best. he played for over a year (and featured Tunie as an overall replacement).

“Lena’s legacy will never die. It’s thanks to people like her that Broadway – theater in general – and the entertainment industry have moved forward in the march towards racial equality, and it’s our commitment at the Nederlander Organization to continue to be a part of this movement,” continued Nederlander.

Horne received a special Tony Award in 1981 and won the Drama Desk Award that year for Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her performance in “The Lady and Her Music”. She has been nominated for two Primetime Emmys and eight Grammys, winning three, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Horne earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, was inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame in 1982, and received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984. Outside of her career as a performer and performer, Horne was an activist. A member of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority founded in 1919 by 22 female students studying at Howard University, Horne and her counterpart Leontyne Price co-chaired the sorority’s inaugural Arts and Humanities Commission to support black women in the arts. In 2020, Michael Matuza, Jeb Gutelius, and New York City Hall created the Lena Horne Award to honor her legacy of “being at the center of the arts and activism.” Beginning in 2023, the Lena Horne Theater will host this honor and its annual ceremony.

“She had magic. She had craftsmanship. She had courage. But for me, his greatest strength was his imagination,” said Lumet, Horne’s granddaughter. “Grandma had to fight for the right to her imagination.”

“Witnessing a Broadway theater named in her honor, participating in this momentous tribute to her legacy is testament to the ancestors’ dedication to the efforts of countless heroes – including Lena – who sought to bring about positive change in the world,” McDonald said in his closing remarks.

As Williams sang in her tribute, there has been “stormy weather.” But as LaChanze sang in her tuned lyrics to “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple,” “Lena is beautiful. She’s beautiful. And there she is.