The Nederlander Organization announced Thursday that Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre will be renamed after Lena Horne, the legendary “Stormy Weather” singer, actress and civil rights activist who passed away in May 2010.
This will mark the first time a Broadway theater has been named for a Black woman. The theater, which opened in 1926 as the Mansfield, in 1961 became the first venue named for a theater critic, the longtime New York Times reviewer Brooks Atkinson. In fact, Atkinson famously praised a performance by then-newcomer Horne in the 1939 musical “Blackbirds.”
Last fall, the owners and operators of 39 Broadway theaters — commercial and nonprofit — as well as the Broadway League and Actors’ Equity Association to improve diversity and inclusion in the industry. Broadway’s three biggest commercial landlords — the Shubert, Nederlander and Jujamcyn organizations — each promised at least one of its theaters would be named for a Black artist. Jujamcyn already runs the August Wilson Theatre, which it renamed for the late “Fences” playwright in 2005, and the Schuberts in March agreed to rebrand the Cort Theatre as the James Earl Jones Theater.
Horne, who began her career as a chorus line dancer at the famed Cotton Club in New York City, went on to star in a number of films, including “Panama Hattie,” “Stormy Weather,” “Cabin in the Sky,” and “The Wiz.” She was the first African-American person elected to the Screen Actors Guild board of directors and, in 1958, became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in “Jamaica.”
In 1980, James M. Nederlander booked Horne into the Nederlander Theatre for “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which earned her a special Tony Award and two Grammys for the cast recording for her show. She was also given a Lifetime Grammy Award in 1989.
“We are proud to take this moment to rename one of our theaters in honor of the great civil rights activist, actress, and entertainer Lena Horne,” Nederlander’s son, James L. Nederlander said in a statement. “I am so honored to have known Lena. She became a part of our family over the years. It means so much to me that my father was the producer of ‘Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,’ and it is my privilege, honor, and duty to memorialize Lena for generations to come.”
A statement from Gail Lumet Buckley, Lena’s daughter, and the Horne Family read, “On February 13, 1939, Brooks Atkinson wrote a review of the musical ‘Blackbirds’ of 1939 for the New York Times. His review was generally unfavorable except for the mention of ‘a radiantly beautiful girl, Lena Horne, who will be a winner once she has proper direction.’ The proper direction came from within Lena herself. She sought an artistic education, and a political education. She sought her own voice, found it, and then fought for the right that was always denied her — the right to tell her own story.”
The Horne family also thanked James M. Nederlander for staging Lena’s 1981 one-woman show, which ran for 366 performances in three countries. “We’re grateful to the Nederlander Organization for rechristening this space to the Lena Horne Theater. We hope artists and audiences alike will tell their own stories here.”
An event will be held for the renaming ceremony this fall, with an exact date to be announced later.