Lena Horne to Become the First Black Woman With a Broadway Theater Named After Her

Lena Horne
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The Brooks Atkinson Theatre will be renamed the Lena Horne Theatre, the first-ever theater named after a Black woman.

Broadway is about to make history. On Thursday, the Nederlander Organization announced it will rename the Brooks Atkinson Theatre after legendary performer Lena Horne, who died in 2010 at 92. The move marks the first time a Broadway theater has been named after a Black woman.

The Brooks Atkinson is one of the Nederlander Organization's nine Broadway theaters and is currently home to the Tony-winning SIX: The MusicalBuilt in 1926, the venue was renamed for the late, longtime New York Times theater critic Atkinson in 1960.

Per Playbill, the name change follows an agreement reached between Black Theater United -- a collection of Black theater leaders with founding members including Billy Porter and Vanessa Williams -- and Broadway's three major landlords last year. The agreement called for each landlord 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. 

The Shubert Organization previously announced that its Cort Theatre would be renamed for James Earl Jones, while Jujamcyn Theaters has a venue named for the late, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

Horne was an acclaimed singer and celebrated actress. She earned four GRAMMY Awards -- including a lifetime achievement award in 1989 -- as well as a Tony Award in 1981 for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, among countless other accolades.

Apart from her many accomplishments in show business, Horne was also a passionate civil rights activist and a dedicated proponent of the civil rights movement across the nation.

In a statement, Horne's daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, and the Horne family reflected on the connection between Atkinson and the actress. 

"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," Buckley said.

"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."

Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald -- another founding member of Black Theatre United -- spoke out about the renaming, saying, "I am overjoyed that the Nederlander Organization is honoring Lena Horne's powerful legacy by renaming a theater in her honor. 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.

She added: "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 theater, we will stand even taller on her mighty shoulders and her enduring legacy. This is truly a historic day."

The Nederlander Organization will host an event this fall for the renaming ceremony with an official date to be announced in the coming weeks.

Back in 2021, ET spoke with the iconic performer's granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, who is developing a series based on the stage and screen legend's life.

"I'm the luckiest person in the entire world to have these people in my life," Lumet told ET while reflecting on her grandmother's indelible legacy. "If she truly means so much to so many people that means that they will embrace her fully... her struggle was [that] people often wanted her to be a specific thing, and for her to be a whole woman for herself is the journey."

"My job is to document a woman discovering herself," Lumet continued. "Finding herself within this crazy whirlwind of America, of Blackness, of entertainment."

Looking at the challenges Horne faced and overcame, Lumet marveled at the grace and determination her grandmother exhibited.

"People didn't want to do her hair, people didn't want to do her makeup, people didn't want to dress her. There were issues about what entrances she was allowed to use," Lumet said, "and yet she had to be this exquisite performer and this exquisite beauty you saw in front of you."

While facing these struggles, Horne managed to break barriers and open up possibilities for other performers as well.

"There are some people who just sort of, by the nature of their being, kind of lift all of us up and move us along," Lumet explained. "I think that she's quite miraculous."