Black and Glamorous: The Legacies of Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll

I have always had an immense fascination with Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll. Watching them perfor...

I have always had an immense fascination with Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll. Watching them perform, respectively, immediately transports me to a nostalgic time where possessing class, glamour, beauty and amazing talent was a world all unto itself. These two women exuded a flawless grace in everything they committed their lives to whether it be their craft or to their community.

“My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman; You have to be taught to be second class; you're not born that way.” –Lena Horne

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was one of the most formidable singing actresses of her time. Starting out as a dancer at the ripe age of sixteen, she began performing nightly at the Cotton Club in Harlem to help support her mother. Having made a name for herself Horne continued to expand her wings embarking on a successful career that spanned more than 60 years both nationally and internationally. In negative images of Black people that time she earned numerous awards including three Grammy’s, one Tony, and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artists.

While these are most notable for her career, it was her unadulterated activism that won my heart over. Through all of the perilous discrimination she faced (from both white and black folks mind you), she refused to bow down and be nothing more than her own fierce Black woman. Horne not only regularly turned down scripts where the characters perpetuated stereotypical images; she also worked to ensure that Black soldiers were treated equally by refusing to entertain to segregated audiences. She was a constant figure and supporter of the Civil Rights movement and frequently spoke out against racial injustices at rallies for the NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women. Though her career took a hit for several long years due to her political views, Horne never once bowed down and took the easy way out. She remained simply Lena.
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"There are many different impressions about a woman of my color and my background who began in the fifties, and how she developed.; I've spent about that amount of time trying to tell the public that there was purpose in... my business, my career and the roller coaster ride... how the people I associated with worked together.” –Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll is the first Black woman to ever star in her very own mainstream television series which did not feature stereotypical images of Black women. Breaking racial-gendered barriers in media across the United States of America, Carroll’s character in her hit series, Julia, ran for a total of 86 episodes and earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series. Carroll not only proved that as a Black woman she could perform on the same level, if not better, than her white counterparts, but more significantly—that Black people were capable of playing vastly different roles than those normally associated with their culture.

Born Carol Diahann, her career began at the age of fifteen modeling for Ebony magazine. She later gained film recognition with her supporting role in Carmen Jones in 1954 and the character, Clara, in Porgy and Bess in 1959. After her hit series, Julia, Carroll went on to become a number of “firsts” including that of the very first Black woman to star in the popular series Dynasty as Dominique Deveraux.

For more than fifty years, Diahann Carroll has consistently brought to film and stage the unique and memorable classical essence of Black women. Having survived the worst of breast cancer, Carroll continues to stand strong projecting the elegant refinement of Black sophistication and Hollywood royalty.
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Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at:

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