In a historic first, the Nederlander Organization will rename one of its Broadway theaters to honor the great performer and civil rights activist Lena Horne, the company announced today. The venue, currently the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, will be the first Broadway venue named for a Black woman.
The new name – The Lena Horne Theatre – will become official this fall. The venue currently houses the hit Broadway musical Six.
“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 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.”
The name change is the latest realization of a pledge made last year by the three major Broadway theater owners (in an agreement with Black Theater United) to name at least one of their theaters for a Black artist. In March, the Shubert Organization announced that it would rename the 110-year-old Cort Theater the James Earl Jones Theatre.
Jujamcyn Theaters had renamed its Virginia Theatre as the August Wilson Theatre in honor of the playwright in 2005.
Horne, who died in 2010, was one of the 20th Century’s most accomplished and influential singers, and had a groundbreaking and 70-year career spanning Hollywood films, television, nightclubs, concerts and Broadway.
In 1981, she opened the celebrated show Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music at the Nederlander Theater. She won a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards for the show. James M. Nederlander, father of James (Jimmy) L. Nederlander, was one of the lead producers of the production.
Horne’s other Broadway credits include her 1934 debut Dance With Your Gods, Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939, Jamaica (which earned her a Tony nomination in 1958), and, in 1974, Tony & Lena Sing with Tony Bennett.
The 1,069-seat theater at 256 W. 47th Street to be renamed for Horne opened in 1926 as the Mansfield Theatre, and in 1950 was leased to CBS under the name Studio 59. The venue was renamed for former New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson when it resumed theatrical performances in 1960.
In a statement, Gail Lumet Buckley, Horne’s daughter, and the Horne Family said, “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. In 1981, James M. Nederlander offered her their stage and Lena’s one-woman show, The Lady and Her Music ran for more than a year. 366 performances, in three countries. It was her fullest expression as an artist and storyteller. We’re grateful to the Nederlander Organization for rechristening this space to the Lena Horne Theatre. We hope artists and audiences alike will tell their own stories here.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams also praised the news, saying, “As a daughter of Brooklyn, a civil rights leader, an artist, and an activist, there is no one who embodies the spirit of this great city more than Lena Horne. With this renaming, an iconic New Yorker will rightly take her place amongst an iconic New York industry while being introduced to new generations as they visit this beautiful theater. This is a fantastic decision by Jimmy Nederlander and the Nederlander Organization, and I look forward to continuing to support all of our great venues as we recover from COVID and once again welcome the world to our doorstep.”
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