6, 1930 - August 14, 2010
Born in Chicago and raised in rural Michigan, Abbey Lincoln began
performing while still in high school. In 1951, she moved to the West Coast,
working under various names (Gaby Lee, Anna Marie, Gaby Wooldridge) before
settling on Abbey Lincoln. She recorded her first album with jazz great
Benny Carter in 1956 and appeared in the 1957 film, The Girl Can't Help
It. Lincoln then recorded a series of albums for the Riverside label
with drummer Max Roach, who had introduced her to the label's owner.
Lincoln's collaborations with Roach (to whom she was married from 1962-
70) lasted more than a decade, and included the seminal recording, Freedom
Now Suite in 1960. This was the beginning of a more social and
political activist approach to her music. Over the years, she has worked
with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy,
Coleman Hawkins, Miles Davis, Jackie McLean, Clark Terry, and Stan Getz.
In addition to her music, Lincoln also pursued acting, appearing in the
films Nothing But A Man and For Love of Ivy and on
television series, such as Mission: Impossible and the Flip
Wilson Show. She also taught drama at the California State University.
She did not record any albums as a leader from 1962-72, but made a grand
return to jazz with her 1973 recording, People In Me, her first
album of all original material.
Lincoln returned to her influences in 1987, recording two albums in
tribute to Billie Holiday, and then a series of recordings for Verve
throughout the 1990s that showcased her writing prowess. Her emotionally
honest, mature style is still revered, and Lincoln continues to perform and
tour with a new trio.
Abbey was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2003.
Moseka and Joan Cartwright (Montreux, Switzerland, 1992)
from today's NY Times by Nate Chinen
Higgins Jr./The New York Times
at her home in
Abbey Lincoln, a singer whose dramatic vocal command and tersely poetic
songs made her a singular figure in jazz, died today, Saturday August 14 in
. She was 80 and lived on the
Upper West Side
death was announced by her brother David Wooldridge.
Lincoln’s career encompassed outspoken civil rights advocacy in the 1960s
and fearless introspection in more recent years, and for a time in the 1960s
she acted in films with Sidney Poitier.
recognized as one of jazz’s most arresting and uncompromising singers, Ms.
Lincoln gained similar stature as a songwriter only over the last two
decades. Her songs, rich in metaphor and philosophical reflection, provide
the substance of “Abbey Sings Abbey,” an album released on Verve in
2007. As a body of work, the songs formed the basis of a three-concert
retrospective presented by Jazz at
Her singing style was unique, a combined result of bold projection and
expressive restraint. Because of her ability to inhabit the emotional
dimensions of a song, she was often likened to Billie Holiday, her chief
influence. But Ms. Lincoln had a deeper register and a darker tone, and her
way with phrasing was more declarative.
utter individuality and intensely passionate delivery can leave an audience
breathless with the tension of real drama,” Peter Watrous wrote in The New
York Times in 1989. “A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance,
and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion.”
had a profound influence on other jazz vocalists, not only as a singer and
composer but also as a role model. “I learned a lot about taking a
different path from Abbey,” the singer Cassandra
said. “Investing your lyrics with what your life is about in the
Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in
on Aug. 6, 1930, the 10th of 12 children, and raised in rural
. In the early 1950s, she headed west in search of a singing career,
spending two years as a nightclub attraction in Honolulu, where she met Ms.
Holiday and Louis Armstrong. She then moved to
, where she encountered the accomplished lyricist Bob Russell.
It was at the suggestion of Mr. Russell, who had become her manager, that
she took the name Abbey Lincoln, a symbolic conjoining of Westminster Abbey
and Abraham Lincoln. In 1956, she made her first album, “Affair ... a
Story of a Girl in Love” (
), and appeared in her first film, the Jayne Mansfield vehicle “The Girl
Can’t Help It.” Her image in both cases was decidedly glamorous: On the
album cover she was depicted in a décolleté gown, and in the movie she
sported a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe.
For her second album, “That’s Him,” released on the
label in 1957, Ms. Lincoln kept the seductive pose but worked convincingly
with a modern jazz ensemble that included the tenor saxophonist Sonny
Rollins and the drummer Max Roach. In short order she came under the
influence of Mr. Roach, a bebop pioneer with an ardent interest in
progressive causes. As she later recalled, she put the
dress in an incinerator and followed his lead.
The most visible manifestation of their partnership was “We Insist! Max
Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” issued on the Candid label in 1960, with Ms.
Lincoln belting Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics. Now hailed as an early
masterwork of the civil rights movement, the album radicalized Ms.
Lincoln’s reputation. One movement had her moaning in sorrow, and then
hollering and shrieking in anguish — a stark evocation of struggle. A year
later, after Ms. Lincoln sang her own lyrics to a song called
“Retribution,” her stance prompted one prominent reviewer to deride her
in print as a “professional Negro.”
Lincoln, who married Mr. Roach in 1962, was for a while more active as an
actress than a singer. She starred in the films “Nothing but a Man,” in
1964, and “For Love of Ivy,” opposite Sidney Poitier, in 1968. But with
the exception of “Straight Ahead” (Candid), on which “Retribution”
appeared, she released no albums in the 1960s. And after her divorce from
Mr. Roach in 1970, she took an apartment above a garage in
and withdrew from the spotlight for a time. She never remarried.
addition to Mr. Wooldridge, Ms. Lincoln is survived by another brother,
Kenneth Wooldridge, and a sister, Juanita Baker.
a visit to Africa in 1972, Ms. Lincoln received two honorary appellations
from political officials: Moseka, in
, and Aminata, in
. (Moseka would occasionally serve as her surname.) She began to consider
her calling as a storyteller and focused on writing songs.
in the 1980s, Ms. Lincoln resumed performing, eventually attracting the
attention of Jean-Philippe Allard, a producer and executive with PolyGram
. Ms. Lincoln’s first effort for what is now the Verve Music Group, “The
World Is Falling Down” (1990), was a commercial and critical success.
Eight more albums followed in a similar vein, each produced by Mr. Allard
and enlisting top-shelf jazz musicians like the tenor saxophonist Stan Getz
and the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. In addition to elegant originals like
“Throw It Away” and “When I’m Called Home,” the albums featured
Ms. Lincoln’s striking interpretations of material ranging from songbook
standards to Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine
“Abbey Sings Abbey” Ms. Lincoln revisited her own songbook exclusively,
performing in an acoustic roots-music setting that emphasized her affinities
with singer-songwriters like Mr. Dylan. Overseen by Mr. Allard and the
American producer-engineer Jay Newland, the album boiled each song to its
essence and found Ms. Lincoln in weathered voice but superlative form.
the album was released in May 2007, Ms. Lincoln was recovering from
open-heart surgery. In her
Upper West Side
apartment, surrounded by her own paintings and drawings, she reflected on
her life, often quoting from her own song lyrics. After she recited a long
passage from “The World Is Falling Down,” one of her more prominent
later songs, her eyes flashed with pride. “I don’t know why anybody
would give that up,” she said. “I wouldn’t. Makes my life