Singer and actress Lena Horne becomes first Black woman to have Broadway theater named in her honor

The Brooks Atkinson theater has been renamed after the prolific entertainer.

November 2, 2022, 1:16 PM

A popular Broadway theater has been renamed after one of the most prolific entertainers in American history.

The Brooks Atkinson theater at 256 W. 47th Street now displays a glittering marquis with the name of Lena Horne, the late dancer, actress, singer and civil rights activist -- becoming the first Broadway theater to be named after a Black actress.

Horne got her start as a member of the chorus for the Cotton Club, a Harlem nightclub, when she was just 16 years old, ABC New York station WABC reported.

She later moved to Hollywood, where she began to book small parts in numerous movies before landing bigger roles, including Georgia Brown in the 1943 film "Cabin in the Sky" and as Selina Rogers in "Stormy Weather" that same year, in which she sang the vocals for the title song.

PHOTO: The marquee was unveiled at Broadway's new Lena Horne Theatre
in New York City, Nov. 1 2022.
The marquee was unveiled at Broadway's new Lena Horne Theatre in New York City, Nov. 1 2022.
Myrna Suarez/Shutterstock

Horne was one of the few movie stars of color during the 1940s but went on to star in more movies, television and Broadway shows -- as well as a continued career in nightclub performances -- in the coming decades. She also spent nearly half a century dedicating her voice to civil rights activism.

She earned numerous awards throughout her career, including four Grammys, an NAACP Image Award in 1999 and a Tony for Best Actress in 1957 for originating the role of Savannah in the musical "Jamaica."

Horne died in 2010 at the age of 92.

On Tuesday, many in the entertainment industry who knew Horne or were influenced by her gathered in Manhattan's Theater District to celebrate the honor bestowed upon the late barrier-breaking actress.

"She opened so many doors for us that we as people of color can thank her for being a beacon of light," singer Vanessa Williams told WABC.

Audra McDonald speaks onstage during the Nederlander Organization's unveiling of Broadway's new Lena Horne Theatre on Nov. 01, 2022 in New York City.
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Actor Norm Lewis described Horne as "a major civil rights activist and someone who just refused to accept what people were giving at that time in history."

"We admire that so much," Lewis said of Horne lending her voice to the African American community.

The theater, previously named after the late theater critic Justin Brooks Atkinson, whose New York Times reviews were considered influential during his decades-long career, has housed productions such as Shakespeare's "As You Like It" in 1941, "Of Mice and Men" in 1974 and "Waitress" beginning in 2016. It now hosts the hit music "Six," a comedy based loosely on the six wives of King Henry VIII of Britain.

Built in 1926 as the Mansfield Theater, it was renamed in 1960 after Atkinson, the year he retired, according to Broadway Direct. Atkinson died in 1984 at the age of 89.

With the recent renovation of the theater came its new name -- something New York City Mayor Eric Adams said will now add some color to The Great White Way, the stretch of Broadway between the Theater District and Lincoln Center that houses 41 professional theaters with 500 or more seats.

"What we are saying is that The Great White Way must have some chocolate on it," Adams told reporters on Tuesday.