Horne started her career as a chorus dancer at Harlem's famed Cotton Club and sang in New York boites before arriving in Los Angeles to become a nightclub singer. She soon attracted the attention of Hollywood, and got a seven-year contract at MGM, beginning with Panama Hattie. She also had major roles in Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky.
Because of being African-American, however, she was primarily relegated to cameo roles in such movies as Ziegfield Follies and When the Clouds Roll By.
MGM originally considered having her play Julie LaVerne in Show Boat, having Horne record the vocals, but the part was given to Ava Gardner. She later appeared on film in Death of a Gunfighter and The Wiz, in which she played Glinda the Good.
Horne came to Broadway in 1957 in the musical Jamaica, opposite Ricardo Montalban, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress. But her greatest triumph was her one-woman show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which debuted in May, 1981 and ran for 13 months, and earned her a Special Tony Award. The show was later taped for PBS and earned an Emmy Award nomination.
She was married to Louis Jones and Lennie Hayton. She is survived by her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley. Her son, Terry Jones, predeceased her.