The series is currently titled “Blackbird: Lena Horne and America,” named for Horne’s favorite poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Jenny Lumet, Horne’s granddaughter, will co-write the first few episodes of the series with Alex Kurtzman, with both also executive producing.
The series will span 60 years of Horne’s life, from dancing at the Cotton Club when she was 16, through World War II and stardom in the MGM years, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and her triumphant return to Broadway. It will also delve into her relationships with luminaries like Paul Robeson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, Billie Holiday, Hattie McDaniel, Ava Gardner, and Orson Welles
“Bringing my grandmother’s story to the screen required a multi-generational effort,” said Lumet. “Grandma passed her stories to my mother, who now passes them to me, so I may pass them to the children of our family. Lena’s story is so intimate and at the same time, it’s the story of America – America at its most honest, most musical, most tragic and most joyous. It’s crucial now. Especially now. She was the love of my life.”
Horne was a celebrated actress, singer, and dancer in her time. She starred in films like “Cabin in the Sky,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Stormy Weather,” and “The Wiz.” On top of her work as a nightclub performer, she released a multitude of albums, winning four Grammy Awards throughout her career. She also starred in her own one woman Broadway show, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.”
She was also a well-known civil rights activist, who famously refused to play for segregated audiences during her time entertaining troops with the USO during World War II. She also attended the March on Washington in 1963 and advocated on behalf of numerous organizations dedicated the helping Black people in America.
This project is the latest collaboration for Lumet and Kurtzman. They have worked together on “Star Trek: Picard,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” and “Star Trek: Short Treks,” and are currently working on “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” and a series adaptation of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” at CBS All Access. Lumet will also be the showrunner on “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” They are also the co-creators of the upcoming CBS drama series “Clarice,” about Clarice Starling in the years after the events of “Silence of the Lambs.”
Kurtzman is executive producing via Secret Hideout along with the company’s president of television, Heather Kadin. CBS Television Studios, where Kurtzman and Secret Hideout are under an overall deal, will serve as the studio on the project.
This is the latest premium cable project about a prominent Black American to be announced in the past week. Last week, HBO announced that Oscar winner Mahershala Ali had signed on to play boxing legend Jack Johnson in a limited series.