The historic move marks the first time a Broadway theater will be named after a Black woman, as the industry continues to grapple with a relative lack of racial diversity.
Last year, a group of Black theater leaders known as Black Theater United, whose founding members include Billy Porter and Audra McDonald, reached an agreement with Nederlander and Broadway’s two other major landlords to have “at least one” of their theaters named after a Black artist, among other actions that seek to reassert their collective commitment to diversity and anti-racism.
As part of that agreement, the 110-year-old Cort Theatre on 48th Street was renamed in March after renowned actor James Earl Jones by the Shubert Organization, another major theater owner.
Starting her career in 1942, Horne became the first Black performer to sign an extensive contract with a big Hollywood studio. Years later, she became the first Black woman to be nominated for the Tony Award for best actress in a musical. At 64, Horne won a special Tony Award and two Grammys for her one-woman show “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.”
Horne was also a fierce advocate for civil rights, teaming up with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to fight to pass anti-lynching legislation, suing businesses for racial discrimination, and paying her own way to entertain Black troops during World War II.
The Atkinson Theater, which can hold more than 1,000 people and has hosted more than 21,000 performances, currently houses the popular musical “Six.” It was last renamed in 1960 for Brooks Atkinson, a theater critic for The New York Times.
James L. Nederlander, president of the Nederlander organization, said in a press release he was “honored to have known Lena” and that she “became a part of our family over the years.”
“It is my privilege, honor, and duty to memorialize Lena for generations to come,” Nederlander said.
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