Two days after her two triumphant sold-out Carnegie Hall concerts, Lena Horne took the same show into New York City's Supper Club to be videotaped for a special on the Arts & Entertainment Network. Her quintet with Donald Harrison, Mike Renzi & Rodney Jones was augmented by the Count Basie Orchestra for four songs. Ms. Horne was in great spirits and brilliant form and this show turned out to be her last public performance. After one more studio album a year later, Lena Horne made good on her pledge to retire.
At age sixty three, she mounted a one-woman show that she brought to Broadway. ‘Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music’ opened at the Nederlander Theatre on May 12, 1981, and was an instant hit. Within a month, she was given a special Tony Award marking its success, and the show played 333 performances, the longest run for a one-person production in Broadway history. The double album released by Qwest Records made the pop and R&B charts, and it finally won her a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance; it also took the Grammy for Best Cast Show Album. After the show closed on June 30, 1982, Horne's 65th birthday, she took it on tour around the country and to London through 1984. At the end of the year, she was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts.
In the fall of 1988, she released, “The Men in My Life,” which made number five in the jazz charts. She was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. In 1994, she did a record for Blue Note under the title “We'll Be Together Again,” and appeared on Frank Sinatra's “Duets II” album, the same year. She performed at Carnegie Hall in September 1994 and the same month recorded a new live album, “An Evening with Lena Horne,” issued by Blue Note in 1995. It reached the Top 20 of the jazz charts and won her the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. In June 1997, her 80th birthday was celebrated by a show at the JVC Jazz Festival and the presentation to her of the Ella Award for Lifetime Achievement in Vocal Artistry. A year later, she released a new Blue Note album, “Being Myself,”(1998) which made the Top Ten of the jazz charts. She came out of retirement to record three songs on “Classic Ellington,” for Blue Note in September 2000.
Her pride in her heritage and her refusal to compromise herself, combined with an innate ability to project elegance, grace, and dignity, have made her a legendary figure. Some observers consider her most important role to be that of a catalyst in the elevation of the status of African Americans in the performing arts. But Horne laments the sluggishness of progress in Hollywood; if given the chance to do it all again, she answered, “I'd be a schoolteacher.”