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Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne Hardcover – June 23, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The clouds rarely lift in this grim, perceptive biography of HollywoodÖs first African-American screen siren. Gavin (Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker) makes clear that much of HorneÖs perpetual frustration stemmed from the racism black entertainers faced in the pre–civil rights era. MGM glamorized her as a darker version of its white starlets, but gave her small roles and singing cameos that Southern theaters could conveniently excise. As a cabaret chanteuse and Vegas headliner, she battled segregated nightclubs that let her sing to, but not drink with, white customers, and racial attitudes tainted her relationships with black audiences and with her white husband and lovers. Still, HorneÖs failures and heartaches seem largely determined by her talent and character. Her movie career, Gavin contends, fizzled more because of limited acting ability than studio perfidy, while a chaotic childhood left her a nasty woman ready to freeze people into oblivion. Indeed, her unhappiness shaped a successful stage persona—a cross between a cobra and a panther devouring her prey—that infused romantic lyrics with scornful irony. As Horne grows from joyless toddler to chilly, bitter diva, GavinÖs clear-eyed account makes her the author of her life, and her pain. Photos. (June)
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"So full of insight into Lena, and the author knows his subject's work. The critiques of her film appearances and her recordings are dazzling passages of insight all on their own.... Talk about something that keeps you turning pages to the very last -- and wishing there was more." -- Liz Smith

"I was transfixed by James Gavin's empathic but clear-eyed biography....The journey of this glorious, complicated, courageous star is an epic American story -- and this serious, luminous book, despite the pain it describes, is an irresistible read." -- Sheila Weller, author of the New York Times bestselling Girls Like Us and Dancing at Ciro's

"... James Gavin offers a fascinating study of a complicated woman and the complicated times that shaped her...he delivers a portrait of a very human artist who is as compelling for her foibles as her accomplishments...By crafting a dense, moving tribute that never dissolves into hagiography, Gavin has proven her point." -- USA Today

"There is good reason for James Gavin's Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne to take up -- when you count the notes, bibliography, discography, filmography and index -- nearly 600 pages. This Lena ... has had a life so rich in ups and downs as to make page after page eventful and suspenseful. This all the more so since the book is also two books in one: a thorough and fluent biography and a history of the slow social rise of black people despite crippling discrimination and stinging humiliationsa history in which Horne's story is embedded, notwithstanding some personal jumps ahead." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Gavin illuminates both the outside and inside of his legendary subject, capturing the awe he felt when first meeting Horne without being blinded by it." -- New York Newsday

"For most of her life, Lena Horne has been a very angry woman. She may have given as good as she got for many of her 92 years, but as related in James Gavin's definitive new biography, she had reason enough....The power of Gavin's biography is that he has clearly labored to separate fact from fiction...Beyond that, she was a complicated woman whose personal struggles with identity were inextricably intertwined with those of African Americans throughout the 20th century. In Gavin's capable hands, Lena Horne's story is both uniquely her own and an integral part of a larger cultural journey." -- San Francisco Chronicle,

"I read this 500-page book in one night. Yes, it's that gripping, marvelously written, so full of insight into Lena, and -- a rarity among even the best celebrity biographers -- the author knows his subject's work... It is impossible to convey its power. It is the syory of one woman and her particular issues of family and career, and it is the story of an era, a movement, a statement about equality. That woman and those issues make this the most compelling read of the year. Hands down." -- wowowow.com

"Gavin, who proved himself a consummate researcher with his previous bio of Chet Baker and the New York cabaret scene encyclopedia Intimate Nights, has really outdone himself with Stormy Weather...Gavin unearths incredible archival material (a skin-lightening cream endorsed by Horne) as well as extensive quotes from friends, fans, family and foes that shed a harsh spotlight on the icy diva. Still, he's careful to contextualize even her worst qualities." -- Time Out New York

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743271432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743271431
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By H. G. Booker on July 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A great book about a great lady. Although there was nothing disclosed in the book that I didn't already know, it was a thoroughly facinating read and I couldn't put the book down until I had completed it. I did discover that there was an album released named "Lena Horne- Now". I have every record that Lena released except for this one and I would love to have it. I understand that it is an album of protest songs during the civil rights era but I don't think that it's out on CD. We will probably never understand or know what Lena's motivation truly was but whatever it was, it honed an entertainer that could interpret a love song in a way that has not been and will never be matched by any other. The original and only "Look" but "Don't Touch" Lady reigned supreme and lived long enough to laugh at those forces that attempted to stifle her and her talent. One thing I wish had been contained in the book was the comment of the stripper arrested in London while Lena was playing there. She said to the authorities - "I don't know why you are arresting me when Lena Horne playing down the street has more sex in one finger than I have in my entire body". Happy Birthday Lena and God Bless. We owe you a great debt of gratitude. By the way, Gavin,the cover photo doesn't do the great Lady Justice.
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Format: Hardcover
I have the cherished memory of seeing Lena Horne in her one-woman Broadway show back in 1981, The Lady And Her Music. At 64, she was a phenomenal force of nature perfectly in command onstage, and yet the source of her conviction, according to biographer James Gavin, appears borne out of anger as much as pure talent. In his meticulous account of her long life, full of well-documented archival material, Horne had good reason to be angry as she was deeply conflicted about her racial identity. The lightness of her skin was the source of constant taunting, and so traumatized was she that she separated herself from her darker-skinned relatives. Horne's middle-class childhood in Brooklyn is described in sharp contrast to her unstable, self-conscious adolescence. However, it was her unearthly beauty that forged her escape route, first as a chorus girl in the Cotton Club, then a meteoric rise to full-fledged Hollywood star, and finally as an unparalleled nightclub entertainer.

Her WWII-era MGM years prove to be a painful case study in racial discrimination at a time when African- American women were portrayed either as "yes'em" maids or mammy-type servants. Horne was the sole exception until Dorothy Dandridge in the 1950's, a beautiful token figure usually posed against a column wedged into big MGM musicals like Panama Hattie and Ziegfeld Follies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just finished this amazing book and truly enjoyed it. I had the great pleasure to have met her backstage at Lincoln Center after her performance as part of a JVC Jazz Festival tribute to Billy Strayhorn. She was most gracious to my ex-wife and I and even took the time to pose for several photos with us. A few days later, I sent her a card to sign for us to frame with the photos and she obliged and mailed the card back in record time. We later saw her in concert at Carnegie Hall when she brought the house down with a spectacular performance.
James Gavin has done a great job with this book and I wish him and Ms. Horne all the best.

Get the book !!!!!!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Stormy Weather" is not only a voluminous study of the life of Ms. Horne, but of the lives of many of the renown and the talented who lived through the years of the Great Depression and endured and/or participated in the poverty and the bigotry that was everywhere evident at that time.
"Stormy Weather" portrays Lena as a woman with the strength to endure a difficult life and the frailties that made her life difficult and untimately unrewarding. This is a book worth reading.
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Format: Paperback
Rest in Heavenly Peace, Ms. Horne! I am reading both Mr. Gavin's and Ms. Lumet Buckley's books simultaneously. Both Mr. Gavin and Ms. Lumet Buckley wrote excellent books. I am a woman in my early fifties and, while I am certainly aware of Ms. Horne, I never fully understood. She endured so much racism, both familial and industry-wise and I never understood her name tags: beautiful, angry, distant and aloof, mesmerizing. Like so many, she was from a dysfunctional family, unloved, manipulated. I've been watching performances of Ms. Horne on the talk show circuit (Johnny Carson and Rosie O'Donnell)and her t.v. and club performances. I TOTALLY GET IT NOW. I have sympathy for her in her grief. Losing the three most important men in her life in a year or so, was devastating. I sympathize with her with the difficult relationships with both her children and how she felt guilty about the drug use and death of her only son. One thing I always admired about Ms. Horne was that she knew she was a black woman, no matter what anyone else tried to make her out to be ("Egyptian" makeup?!) No matter what else, one thing is certain: she is one of the most revered icons of Black America. We've been missing her for the last ten years and we will miss her more now that she's gone.
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