2022-07-05

One of Broadway’s biggest landlords said Thursday that it would rename a theater after the performer and activist Lena Horne, who would then become the first Black woman to win such recognition.

The Nederlander Organization, which operates nine of the 41 Broadway theaters, said it would rename the Brooks Atkinson Theater in Horne’s honor. The Atkinson is a 1,031-seat venue on West 47th Street; it was built in 1926 and is currently home to the hit musical “Six.”

The change brings the Nederlander Organization into compliance with an agreement reached last year between Broadway leaders and the advocacy organization Black Theater United, under which all three major Broadway landlords pledged that at least one of their theaters would be named for a Black artist. Jujamcyn Theaters already had a theater named for the playwright August Wilson, and the Shubert Organization announced in March that it would rename the Cort Theater after the actor James Earl Jones.

Horne, who died in 2010, was an actor and singer who performed in nightclubs, in Hollywood, on television and onstage. She was also a longtime civil rights activist, outspoken on behalf of Black soldiers, and a frequent participant in protests and marches. She supported anti-lynching legislation, and fought against racism in the entertainment industry.

She appeared in five Broadway shows, including the long-running “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which in the early 1980s had a 346-performance run at the Nederlander Theater, followed by a tour. In 1958 she became the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for best actress in a musical, for her work in “Jamaica”; in 1981 she was granted a special Tony Award for “The Lady and Her Music.”

James L. Nederlander, the president of the Nederlander Organization, said he remembered as a young man watching Horne perform — she would often make gentle fun of his father, who produced her Broadway show, from the stage — and coming to think of her as a friend. “She’s such a legend, and her time is overdue,” he said. “This felt really right.”

Horne’s granddaughter, Jenny Lumet, a television showrunner and producer, said the family is delighted with the plan. “I’m really proud that people might find a spark of creativity in a space that has her name on it — that’s all you can ask for,” she said in an interview. “And it means something that there will be a theater, in the mecca of theater, named after a Black female artist. I couldn’t be prouder.”

The theater has since 1960 been named for Brooks Atkinson, an influential longtime theater critic for The New York Times. The Nederlanders said the name change should take place this fall, but that the exact date will depend on when the new marquee signage is ready.

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