Lena Horne, extraordinary singer, died in 2010 at the age of 92. In her final years she gave an interview to one of her most noted admirers, James Gavin. This handsome young man devoted five years of his life and almost 600 pages of a book to paying homage to Lena with the biography, Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne.

Stormy Weather is Gavin's third triumph as an author. Previously, in 2002, his book about Chet Baker, published later in France under the title La Longue Nuit de Chet Baker, violently highlighted the myth of the drug-addicted trumpeter that the French too often see through rose-colored glasses. Gavin's incisive vision of the life of Chet Baker earned him severe criticism in the French media, including the sarcasm of a certain journalist in Les Inrockuptibles. Perhaps a similar destiny awaits Gavin's book on Lena Horne, not yet published in France, because it's very incisive and not at all timid. However, the somber story of Lena Horne is also undeniably our story. It's in France that that woman found freedom, acceptance, and a private life refused her in her own country.

Lena Horne was the first African-American star, and also the first black woman who projected a chic image and a refined sexuality, a role normally reserved for whites. During her collaboration with MGM, she was obliged to respect certain rigorous social constraints. One of the most imperious concerned relations with white individuals. In the 1940s in the United States, marriages between blacks and whites were almost unheard of, and indeed, illegal in 30 states. In spite of these restrictions, a clandestine love occurred between Lena and her musical director, Lennie Hayton. But for Lena, the problem wasn't only her lover's color and his religion - Lennie was Jewish - but also the constant pressure exerted on her by black activist groups like the NAACP, that reminded her constantly that she had to symbolize respectability, elegance, and good taste for all black Americans.

As James Gavin explains, manipulated like a puppet by the studios and the activists, suddenly felt free from her shackles when she arrived in Paris with her lover. On the Champs-Élysées, they could stroll in public hand in hand without anyone saying anything; nor was a word uttered when they were seen entering the same hotel room together. What's more, her debut in Paris as a singer gave her a delirious success. Gavin teaches us that the Parisians - cried and screamed hurrah and - in a practice rare for them - whistled loudly.

But Gavin insists on saying that France was far from an Eldorado for people of color. "Blacks in general were commonly revered as blues-shouting, gospel-singing, jazz-playing idiot savants. J.V. Cottom, a writer for the French magazine
Ciné Revue, declared of Horne: "She sings to forget her troubles, just like the Negros on the cotton plantations." Ultimately, France did not serve as an antidote to the divine Lena's bitterness, which only grew, inexorably, during the seventy years of her remarkable career.

The death of Lena Horne made Gavin's work the ultimate testament to the singer. On May 9, 2010, he was working in Palm Springs, busy promoting the release of the paperback. After the announcement of Lena's death around 7pm, the calls and the emails - from England, Australia, France, Japan, and all over the United States - didn't stop all night. Gavin didn't sleep more than an hour. Thanks to James Gavin, who is an expert on the singer's life, Lena Horne has finally escaped from the prison of her race to become a univ ersal icon of popular music and a permanent symbol of the human fight to blossom as a person. That would have been enough to demolish the mountains of doubts and the lack of confidence that had accumulated in her soul in more than eight decades. But it happened too late for her to enjoy it.