NEW YORK — She was a pioneer in many ways, and now, Lena Horne, an icon of the stage, film, television, and activism, has become the first Black woman to have a Broadway theater named in her honor.
The venue, which had been known as the Brooks Atkinson Theater, got a name change at a Tuesday afternoon ceremony. A long list of celebrities from the many different fields in which Horne excelled were in attendance.
“She’s humbled by it,” said Chita Rivera, herself a Broadway legend, and friend of Lena Horne, over many decades. “I’m talking about her like she’s alive right now,” Rivera continued. “Well, she is.”
From Broadway royalty like Rivera, to up and coming actors like Holli’ Conway, Horne serves as an exemplar in many ways.
“There are so many little girls and boys who’ll be inspired” to have a theater named after Horne, said Conway. “I was that little girl.”
Conway plays one of the principal characters of “Six, The Musical.” It’s staged in the theater that had been known as the Brooks Atkinson, until 3:45 p.m. Tuesday.
At that time, minutes after Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams made official tributes, there was a countdown.
Broadway actor Audra Mcdonald led a group of Black female Broadway child actors in the unveiling. When they reached zero in the countdown, down came a golden banner covering the name of the newly-rechristened Broadway venue.
The name “Lena Horne,” in lights arranged in a distinctive cursive script, adorned the marquee. Also, just below the crown of the building on 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, was a sign in an art deco font reading “Lena Horne Theater.”
The venue is owned by the Nederlander Family, which has long been close to Horne and her family. At the event on Tuesday, Horne’s granddaughter and James L. Nederlander, the president of the theater organization, walked the red carpet together at times.
Nederlander spoke about James M. Nederlander, who’d produced Horne’s most successful Broadway show, her one-woman tour de force, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.”
“I was thinking about my father,” Nederlander said. “He would’ve renamed this ‘Lena’ in a heartbeat.”
He also pointed out that the Horne Family had had to agree to the renaming after his company had proposed it. They did, obviously, and Jenny Lumet, Horne’s granddaughter, said that the icon she knew as “Grandma” would have graciously and excitedly accepted the offer.
“She’d be over the moon,” Lumet told PIX11 News, on the red carpet. “It’s a lot. It means a lot.”
Horne’s signature song, “Stormy Weather,” was performed at the renaming ceremony by Vanessa Williams, another star of multiple media, including Broadway. In an interview, Williams said that the newly renamed theater shows the vitality of the Black theater community.
She pointed out that demands made by Black Theatre United, an advocacy group of Black actors and performers, were the genesis of the name change, and she praised some of Broadway’s biggest stakeholders for acting on those demands.
“There’s been Black talent for years [on Broadway,]” Williams said, “but now we get a chance to see more, not just in performance, but every aspect of the theater.”
The Lena, as the theater is already being nicknamed, now joins the James Earl Jones Theater, renamed this year, as venues that were rechristened in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and other activist movements calling for equity.
The August Wilson Theater, renamed in 2005, is the third of Broadway’s 41 major theaters named after an African American.
Lena Horne was the only one of the three Black theater icons after whom venues are named who was a native New Yorker. She was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, and lived most of her life in New York.
Among her many accomplishments: Horne spoke at the March on Washington; she was an active member and spokesperson for the NAACP; she won multiple Grammy Awards, a Tony Award, and a Kennedy Center Honor; she was one of the first Black actors to sign with a major motion picture studio.
Now, she becomes the first woman of color to have a Broadway theater named in her honor. Many people at its dedication ceremony said that her legacy has lived long past her passing in 2010. With the renaming, even more of her legacy will live longer still.