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Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

The Life of Lena Horne


At long last, the first serious biography of entertainment legend Lena Horne -- the celebrated star of film, stage, and music who became one of the first African-American icons.

At the 2001 Academy Awards, Halle Berry thanked Lena Horne for paving the way for her to become the first black recipient of a Best Actress Oscar. Though limited, mostly to guest singing appearances in splashy Hollywood musicals, "the beautiful Lena Horne," as she was often called, became a pioneering star for African Americans in the 1940s and fifties. Now James Gavin, author of Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, draws on a wealth of unmined material and hundreds of interviews -- one of them with Horne herself -- to give us the defining portrait of an American icon.

Gavin has gotten closer than any other writer to the celebrity who has lived in reclusion since 1998. Incorporating insights from the likes of Ruby Dee, Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Arthur Laurents, and several of Horne's fellow chorines from Harlem's Cotton Club, Stormy Weather offers a fascinating portrait of a complex, even tragic Horne -- a stunning talent who inspired such giants of showbiz as Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt, and Aretha Franklin, but whose frustrations with racism, and with tumultuous, root-less childhood, left wounds too deep to heal. The woman who emerged was as angry as she was luminous.

From the Cotton Club's glory days and the back lots of Hollywood's biggest studios to the glitzy but bigoted hotels of Las Vegas's heyday, this behind-the-scenes look at an American icon is as much a story of the limits of the American dream as it is a masterful, ground-breaking biography.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 608 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439164259 | 
  • June 2009
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About the Author

James Gavin
Photo Credit: David Bartolomi

James Gavin

James Gavin is the author of Deep in a Dream, Intimate Nights, and Stormy Weather. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Time Out New York, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

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Author Revealed

Q. how did you come to write Stormy Weather?

A. Lena Horne has been a fascination of mine for almost as long as I've loved singers. Before I'd reached my teens I discovered two albums she made in the mid-'70s, "Lena & Michel [Legrand]" and "Lena, A New Album." The sadness, anger, and disappointment I heard in her singing -- the raw passion -- touched me deeply, and led me on a search for all the Lena Horne recordings and movies I could find. I discovered a woman who had worn many masks, and who seemed to have many secrets. The candor of those two albums I loved was often hidden behind a beaming smile (in her early days at M-G-M), a veneer of brittle glamour and "sexy" ferocity (on her famous album from the Waldorf), an offputting iciness (on a 1966 TV appearance with Andy Williams), or a git-down, "liberated" raunchiness that didn't quite ring true for me (in her 1981-1982 Broadway one-woman show). I wondered why she so often kept the vulnerable Lena I loved in hiding. But even after she revealed that side of herself to me for two hours in 1994, when I interviewed her for the New York Times, I didn't think I would ever undertake to write a book about her. That happened ten years later, just after Janet Jackson nearly got to play her in an ABC-TV biopic. (Janet's Super Bowl blunder put an end to that possibility.) The resultant publicity made me realize that a lot of people still cared about Lena Horne, and that her story -- her true story, that is -- had never really been told. It was mired in stale mythology, a lot of it created by Lena and those around her to buttress her position as an icon. I felt the time had come for an honest look at the human being underneath the inspirational figure. Five years later, I admire her even more.

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