March 25th, 1999
Lena Horne: Race and the American Artist
Procedures for Teachers


  1. Individuals play a variety of roles in people’s lives. Ask the students to brainstorm the roles they play. For example, they are children, siblings, students, workers, grandchildren, aunts or uncles, etc. Ask the students to choose one role and respond in a writing journal to the following questions:
    • Are you comfortable playing this role?
    • How does it make you feel?
    • Have you chosen this role?
    • What expectations do people have of this role?
    • Do you agree with them?
  2. Divide the class into pairs, and ask them to share their responses.
  3. Ask the class to discuss the following people and the roles they have played in society:
    • Princess Diana
    • Nelson Mandela
    • Maya Angelou
    • Michael Jordan
    • Hillary Clinton
  4. Focus on the following questions:
    • Do you think these people have chosen the roles they play?
    • Are roles always freely chosen?
    • How do you think these roles have impacted their private lives?
    • Do people have a responsibility to take on roles? Why or why not?

Activity One

  1. Ask the students to generate a list of people from ancient times to the present representing role models for youth.
  2. Divide the class into two groups and debate the following question:
    • Do prominent people in public life have a responsibility to act as role models for youth?
  3. After the debate, discuss the following question:
    • Do you feel that you have a responsibility to act as role models for younger children? Why or why not?
  4. At different times in her life, Lena Horne struggled with how to reconcile her personal life and her life as a black woman living in the public eye. Many saw her as a role model. Some possible sites to read about Lena Horne’s life include:;,+Lena

  5. Compile a class fact sheet about Lena Horne’s life. This may include photos and websites.
  6. Ask the class the following question:
    • Based on your readings, would you consider Lena Horne a role model?

Activity Two

  1. Race played a central role in Horne’s personal and professional life. As an artist, she struggled with the expectations of her people, and her work. Divide the class into four groups to conduct Internet research. Some good sites to begin researching are suggested. Under each some group possible sites to begin researching are suggested.

    Group One: McCarthyism in Hollywood

    Group Two: African Americans in Hollywood

    Group Three: Lena Horne and Hollywood

    Group Four: Civil Rights Movement and the Stage

  2. Each group should prepare a brief presentation summarizing the results of their research and share it with the whole class.
  3. Ask the students to pretend that they are Lena Horne and are writing a letter to a friend. Have the students describe how they might imagine Lena Horne felt about one of the following incidents:
    • Lena Horne was blacklisted.
    • Lena Horne was thrown out of the USO for turning her back on a white audience and facing the black audience at a performance.
    • Lena Horne was unable to stay at many of the hotels she performed at, or be a customer at some of the venues she played at, such as the Cotton Club.
    • In 1960 Gary Cooper became the first white person on television to touch a black person when he greeted Lena Horne on a show they were both appearing on.
  4. Share Lena Horne’s quote with the class:
    • “I’m a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free… I no longer, I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody I don’t have to be a first to anybody, I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become I’m me and I’m like nobody else.”
  5. Ask the class to respond to the quote in a brief paragraph based on their readings on Horne’s struggles throughout her personal and professional life.
  6. Share individual responses with the class.

Activity Three

  1. Ask the class to brainstorm their favorite performing artists.
  2. Conduct a brief Internet search on the following 1960’s performers:
    • The Beatles
    • Janis Joplin
    • Aretha Franklin

    Discuss how each flourished in the context of the social, cultural and political movements of the times. You may want to play some music from the 60’s in the background that can be accessed at

  3. Lead a class discussion on how the constraints of one’s time shapes who one is as both a person and an artist.
  4. Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Have each group select a musician, an artist, or a writer to research. Each group should create a presentation that highlights how the social context influenced the individual and his or her work. Presentations may be in the form of posters, skits, murals, essays or any other appropriate rendering.
  5. Compile a class list describing the societal influences and values on artists today with those in Lena Horne’s life.


Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation in class discussions, the quality of their writing, and the quality of their presentations.

Extension Activities

  1. Ask the students to prepare a brief report discussing how the Internet has the potential to transform the music and entertainment world. Share individual reports with the class.
  2. Ask the students to research the life of Spike Lee and look for parallels between his life and Lena Horne’s life.
  • Amy Luster

    Question….I remember seeing lena Horne is a musical in San Diego some 20 years ago…does anyone remember the name of the play? Was it come blow your horn?
    Peter & Amy Luster

Inside This Lesson


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