Another first is happening on Broadway this year—The Brooks Atkinson Theatre will be renamed the Lena Horne Theatre this fall in honor of the legendary singer, dancer, actor and civil rights activist—and it'll be the first time a Black woman will have a Broadway theater named in her honor.
James (Jimmy) L. Nederlander’s father, James M. Nederlander, was one of the lead producers of Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music which played at the Nederlander Theatre in 1981. The show was extended to a full-year run, garnering Horne a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording of her show.
"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," said James L. Nederlander of The Nederlander Organization. "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."
Horne, who was born in Brooklyn and started her career at the Cotton Club, was not featured in a leading role in many of her films because she was Black, which would have required re-editing to be shown in cities that would not show films with black performers. Despite this, Horne recorded albums, was in numerous films and performed on the stage.
She was also the first African-American person elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors, according to The Nederlander Organization. In 1958, she became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in the musical Jamaica.
Horne used her influence as a civil rights activist throughout her career. She entertained troops for the USO, but refused to perform for segregated audiences or for groups in which German POWs were seated in front of Black servicemen. Horne worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to lobby Congress to enact anti-lynching legislation and attended the March on Washington. She also spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Council of Negro Women. Horne died on May 9, 2010.
"I am overjoyed that the Nederlander Organization is honoring Lena Horne’s powerful legacy by renaming a theater in her honor," Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald said in a statement. "Representation is everything. A Black woman being recognized and memorialized in this way is powerful. Lena Horne was a woman of fierce talent, incredible strength, and profound conviction. With the utmost grace, she broke down barriers. Beyond her indelible work on stage and screen, she was a civil rights activist who continues to inspire many of us today. Newly christened with her name, the Lena Horne Theatre will affirm that Black women and girls are seen; we are heard, we BELONG and when we stand in her theatre we will stand even taller on her mighty shoulders and her enduring legacy. This is truly a historic day."
The Brooks Atkinson Theatre on West 47th Street, which currently is home to the musical Six, originally opened as the Mansfield in honor of the actor Richard Mansfield in 1926 but in 1960, it was renamed the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in tribute to the New York Times drama critic, according to the Nederlander Organization.
The reason behind the renaming isn't out of the blue—Broadway landlords and Black Theater United, an advocacy organization, reached an agreement last year that at least one of their theaters would be named in honor of a Black artist, according to The New York Times.
If you remember, the Shubert Organization announced that it would rename the Cort Theater after the actor James Earl Jones. Jujamcyn Theaters already have a theater named for the playwright August Wilson.
The date for the newest renaming ceremony will be announced in the coming weeks.