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Lincoln, Abbey 1930–

Abbey Lincoln 1930

Jazz singer, composer, arranger, actress

At a Glance

The Girl in Marilyn Monroes Dress

Presaged the Course of Black Identity

Film Roles Shattered Stereotypes

Emerged as a Strong Black Wind

Selected writings

Selected compositions

Selected discography

Sources

Abbey Lincoln is a culture bearer, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson told John Leland in Newsweek. Theres certain people inside the African-American experience that act as griots, bearers of the culture, and they help to carry on the traditions and transmit knowledge and understanding of our heritage. Paul Robeson was something like that. And so is she.

For four decades Lincolns life has been a constant transformation of experience, of awakenings into growth, of the communication of what she has witnessed. She has grown through many stages: a naive young lounge singer; a movie and jazz club sex kitten; a vocal African-American with a deepened cultural awareness; a sensitive actress contradicting cultural perceptions; an artistic and cultural exile; a poetic jazz sage. She has gone by many names, finding and then defining herself individually, culturally, and humanistically. Lincolns music, which at first served as an escape from the life around her, grew into a means of expression, understanding, and communication with others.

Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930. Her parents soon moved the family to Calvin Center, Michigan, her mother believing a rural area was the best place to raise a family. Since the family was poor, the children often had to entertain themselves with singing, but as the tenth of twelve children, Lincoln had a hard time distinguishing herself. I preferred to sing aloneto be the centerpiece, she recounted to Francis Davis in High Fidelity. The living room piano was my private space, once I discovered that singing could win me attention and admiration. She also sang in school and church choirs, often as a soloist. Her musical approach, however, was mainly influenced by recordings of singers her father borrowed from neighbors: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Home. I was particularly impressed with Lena Horne; for a while I totally emulated her style and voice, Lincoln explained to Gary G. Vercelli in Down Beat. Then I had the opportunity to see Lena perform. It was then that I knew I no longer wanted to be like Lena, cause her message was so loud and clear to be yourself.

Lincoln proved her own singing capabilities by winning an amateur contest when she was 19 and began her musical career by moving to Los Angeles to sing in nightclubs. By 1952, she had moved to Honolulu to perform as a resident club singer under the stage name Anna Marie, but she still

At a Glance

Born Anna Marie Wooldridge, August 6, 1930, in Chicago, IL; performed variously under names Anna Marie, Gaby Lee, and Aminata Moseka; changed name to Abbey Lincoln, 1956; married Max Roach, 1962 (divorced, 1970). Education: Graduated Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo, Ml, 1949; studied music with prominent vocal and dramatic coaches, Hollywood, CA, early 1950s.

Worked as a maid, 1949-50; won amateur singing contest, 1950; moved to California to perform in nightclubs, 1951; performed as resident singer in a club in Honolulu, Hi, 1952-54; returned to Hollywood to perform as a singer at various clubs, 1954-57; began recording career, 1956; sang as a soloist and with a group led by Max Roach, late 1950s-1960s; recorded and toured as a soloist, including tours of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Far East, 1970; assistant professor of African-American Theatre and Pan-African Studies, California State University, 1974.

Appeared as lead or supporting actress in films, including The Girl Cant Help It, 1956, Nothing But a Man, 1964, For the Love of Ivy, 1968, A Short Walk to Daylight, 1972, and Mo Better Blues, 1990; made guest appearances on television shows, including Flip Wilson, Marcus Welby, M.D., Mission Impossible, and All in the Family; performed in music and dance productions and in theater productions; directed and produced play A Pig in a Poke.

Awards: Best actress awards from the Federation of Italian Filmmakers, 1965, and First World Festival of Negro Arts, 1966, both for Nothing But a Man; most prominent screen person award, All American Press Association, for For the Love of Ivy, 1969; inducted into Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1975.

Addresses: Home Harlem, NY. Record CompanyVerve, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

hadnt developed her own identity as a singer. I sang songs I heard Rosemary Clooney sing, songs that were popular on the radio, Lincoln told Lisa Jones of the New York Times. Singers would walk the bar back then, hollering and screaming like instruments, really entertaining the people.

The Girl in Marilyn Monroes Dress

Lincoln returned to Hollywood in 1954 to sing at the Moulin Rouge, a nightclub with a French-style revue featuring elephants and pink-dyed poodles. Wearing feathered hats and dresses with daring slits, she became Gaby Lee, a name the owners of the club thought sounded French. In 1956, under the advice of her manager, lyricist Bob Russell, she changed her name to Abbey Lincolna combination of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. That year, she also recorded her first album, Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, appearing on the cover in a centerfold pose. I went along with [the cover pose] because I didnt know any better, she related to Davis years later. I didnt think of myself as a serious artistor as a serious person either. All I wanted was to be thought of as beautiful and desirable. Later in 1956, Lincoln solidified her sexy image by playing a bit part in the film The Girl Cant Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. In the film she wore a dress that Marilyn Monroe had worn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and she subsequently appeared on the cover of Ebony in June of 1957 as The Girl in Marilyn Monroes Dress.

Down Beats Dom Cerulli encapsulated the publics and medias perception of Lincoln as a jazz singer and entertainer in his review of a 1957 nightclub performance: Definitely a visual as well as an aural performer. Miss Lincoln [is] a handsome women of striking proportions. She must be seen as well as heard for full appreciation.

But this extensive popularity was at odds with her burgeoning social and artistic sensibilities. It was a contradiction in my life, Lincoln described to Michael Bourne in Down Beat. I was always a nice girl and now I was this siren! It was about to drive me crazy. I was scared. Feeling she really wasnt as good a singer as she appeared to be, that she was faking it, Lincoln decided to drop the affectations and pretenses that put her in the limelight. Further enlightenment came from the great jazz drummer Max Roach, whom Lincoln met in the late 1950s and married in 1962. He convinced Lincoln that she didnt need Marilyn Monroe-type dresses in order to succeed in music and in life. Max taught me to invest all my creative effort into everything I approach in life, not only the music, she told Vercelli. Many of the things I learned from him continue to serve me today, especially the technique of always practicing, even when you are away from your instrument. In a symbolic gesture, she reportedly burned the dress soon afterward.

Presaged the Course of Black Identity

Through Roach, Lincoln met and began playing with and learning from such serious jazz artists as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, and Kenny Dorham. She began composing her own music. She also came in contact with black artists in other fields, intellectuals concerned with the plight of African-Americans in American society at the time. It was the early days of the civil rights movement, and we were all asking the same questions, Lincoln explained to Davis. But they were asking questions that glamour girls werent supposed to ask. As I toured the country, I noticed that black people everywhere were living in slums, in abject poverty. I wanted to know why.

Lincolns interest was heartfelt, her questions searching and insightful. She became more aware of her cultural heritage; she began wearing her hair natural. Leland quoted Roach on Lincolns social awareness: She became a symbol for young black women because she was politically astute. [Writers] Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou and other people would all come up and wed have these debate sessions. Because she had the kind of visibility and beauty that you appreciated, it was unsettling to a lot of us men, including me. Because her position would be, not harder, but more pointed than ours. Shed get right down to it.

Lincoln lent her newly emotion-filled voice to Roachs 1960 recording We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, which became the jazz anthem of the civil rights movement. One piece on the album, Prayer/Protest/Peace, a wordless duet between Lincoln and Roach that progressed from hopefulness to screams to peace, brought divided critical reaction. Because it was her voice that yelled at the listener, Lincoln was labeled a radical. But her recent change and growth had an impact, as Jones noted: Her passage from a bouffant-coiffed starlet to a socially conscious jazz artist with an Afro presaged the course that black identity would take in the 60s.

Film Roles Shattered Stereotypes

Lincoln left music recording in the mid-1960s to focus on an acting career, but she continued to speak out against the oppression and stereotyping of African-Americans in that period, choosing to portray only fully fleshed-out characters. She starred opposite Ivan Dixon in the 1964 film Nothing But a Man and in 1968 played the title role opposite Sidney Poitier in the romantic comedy For the Love of Iuy. Though very different, both films were landmarks because of their sensitive, nonpathological portrayals of love, sexuality, and intimacy between a Black woman and man, Jill Nelson wrote in Essence.

Despite winning critical accolades for these film roles, Lincoln was relegated to minor television spots, never being allowed to fulfill her possible destiny as an accomplished and highly visible actress. Film historian Donald Bogle, as quoted by Leland, believed Lincoln was an important transitional figure in the portrayal of African-Americans on the screen, and that the only reason she did not progress as an actress was because of the social climate: She was able to project intelligence and poise and sensitivity. She had color. She wasnt a nurturing mammy figure or oversexed. Its an image the media is not interested in or not comfortable with from an African-American woman.

In 1970, frustrated by a stifled acting career and despondent over her recent divorce from Roach, Lincoln sought emotional relief, signing herself into a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York for five weeks. Over the next decade, Lincoln rarely performed in the United States, touring and traveling occasionally outside of the country. In 1972, while on vacation in Africa, Lincoln was given her African names. President Sekou Toure of Guinea presented her the name Aminata in recognition of her inner strength and determination. The name Moseka, a gift from Zaires Minister of Information, denotes the god of love in female form.

Emerged as a Strong Black Wind

In 1979, almost 15 years after her last U.S. release, Lincoln offered People in Me. She had spent the decade writing songs, training her voice, and finding inner peace. The results were evident on the album. She shows an uncommon felicity with words, John S. Wilson wrote in High Fidelity. Her settings and moods range from the expansive glow of Africa to a satirical view of female vanity, from an imaginative duet with an inner voice to a listingalmost in Cole Porter fashionof the mixtures of blood strains that flow through all of us. After almost ten years of self-exile, Lincoln had emerged as a strong black wind, blowing gently on and on, poet Nikki Giovanni was quoted as saying by Vercelli.

Throughout most of the 1980s, Lincoln continued in the shadows, looking inward, taking the stuff of her own life the loneliness, pain, and joyand turning it into music, Nelson wrote. Her approach to songwriting is autobiographical; she records the world as she encounters it and offers it back in telling observations. A singer has the power of the word, she explained to Peter Watrous in the New York Times. What we say is direct.I come from a long line of great singers who were social and specific and sang about their lives and the lives of their people.

Lincolns voice has ascended to that of her celebrated predecessors not only in content but also in timbre. It is a voice now often compared to one of her childhood idols, Billie Holiday, a deep, rich voice probably truer to the emotional content of her songs than to absolute pitch, Leland noted. It can be off-putting or powerfully engaging, butnever prettifiedit doesnt allow listeners much room for neutrality. The persuasive conviction behind the delivery of her songs, mirroring her emotional attention to life, can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama, Watrous described. A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance, and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion.

With two releases in the early 1990s The World Is Falling Down and You Gotta Pay the Band Lincoln has earned both commercial and artistic success. Both are a testament to her life, her artistic vision, her overall empathy for humanity. The World Is Falling Down is a discourse on life and love from a well-traveled, still passionate soul, Eric Levin wrote in a review for People. When she sings in the title cut (one of her own), The world is falling down / Hold my hand, hold my hand, the sound is of comfort offered rather than sought.

On 1991s You Gotta Pay the Band, Lincoln was joined by the great jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, who died shortly after its release. The music they created and communicated together transcended not only the simple joys of life but the pain at its very end. Down Beats Owen Cordle called it an album with bittersweetness and poignancy in the air. Lincolns voice is the black earth, Getzs saxophone soft summer clouds. Knowing he was dying, how could they get through Lincolns When Im Called Home without pity? Such is the triumph of great art, of which this album is an example.

Selected writings

A Pig in a Poke (play), 1975.

In a Circle, Everything Is Up, unpublished volume of poetry.

Selected compositions

You and Me My Lover, Throw It Away, Caged Bird, Painted Lady, Talking to the Sun, The River, People on the Street, The World Is Falling Down, I Got Thunder (and It Rings), First Song, Bird Alone, When Im Called Home.

Selected discography

Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, Liberty, 1956.

Thats Him!, Riverside, 1957; reissued by Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

Its Magic, Riverside, 1958; reissued by Fantasy/OJC, 1985.

Abbey Is Blue, Riverside, 1959; reissued by Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

(With Max Roach) We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, Candid, 1960.

Straight Ahead, Candid, 1961.

(With Max Roach) Its Time, Impulse, 1962.

People in Me, Inner City, 1979.

Golden Lady, Inner City, 1981.

Talking to the Sun, Enja, 1984.

Abbey Sings Billie, Enja, 1987.

The World Is Falling Down, Verve, 1990.

You Gotta Pay the Band, Verve, 1991.

Sources

Down Beat, February 20, 1957; September 6, 1979; December 1980; March 1982; January 1987; December 1991; February 1992.

Ebony, June 1957.

High Fidelity, June 1979; May 1986.

Jazz Journal International, May 1981.

Newsweek, January 6, 1992.

New York Times, March 3, 1989; August 4, 1991; August 11, 1991.

People, December 17, 1990.

Stereo Review, January 1985.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a documentary of Lincolns life, You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, and the Life of Abbey Lincoln, which aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS-TV), February, 1992.

Rob Nagel

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Lincoln, Abbey

Abbey Lincoln

Singer, composer

Walked the Bar

Pupil of Roach, Rollins, Coltrane, and Monk

An Image the Media Is Not Interested In

Renewed Acclaim

Selected compositions

Selected discography

Sources

Abbey Lincoln is a culture bearer, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson told Newsweeks John Leland. There are certain people inside the African-American experience that act as griots, bearers of the culture, and they help to carry on the traditions and transmit knowledge and understanding of our heritage. [Singer] Paul Robeson was something like that. And so is she. For four decades Lincolns life has been a constant transformation of experience, of awakenings into growth, of the communication of what she has witnessed. She has grown through many stages: a naive young lounge singer; a movie and jazz-club sex kitten; a vocal African American with a deepened cultural awareness; a sensitive actress contradicting cultural perceptions; an artistic and cultural exile; a poetic jazz sage. She has gone by many names, finding and then defining herself individually, culturally, and humanistically. Lincolns music, which at first served as an attention-getting device, eventually grew into a means of expression, understanding, and communication.

Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930. Soon after her birth, the family moved to Calvin Center, Michigan, her mother believing a rural environment was the best in which to raise a family. Since they were poor, the children often had to entertain themselves with singing, but as the tenth of twelve children, Lincoln had a difficult time distinguishing herself. I preferred to sing aloneto be the centerpiece, she recounted to Francis Davis in High Fidelity. The living room piano was my private space once I discovered that singing could win me attention and admiration. She also sang in school and church choirs, often as a soloist. Her musical approach was mainly influenced by the recordings of singers that her father borrowed from neighbors: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Hoern. I was particularly impressed with Lena Hoern; for a while I totally emulated her style and voice, Lincoln explained to Gary G. Vercelli in Down Beat. Then I had the opportunity to see Lena perform. It was then that I knew I no longer wanted to be like Lena, cause her message was so loud and clear to be yourself.

Walked the Bar

Lincoln proved her singing capabilities at an amateur contest when she was 19 and then began her musical career in Los Angeles, singing in nightclubs. By 1952 she had moved to Honolulu to perform as a resident club singer under the stage name Anna Marie, but she still hadnt quite developed her own identity as a singer. I sang songs I heard Rosemary Clooney sing, songs that were popular on the radio, Lincoln told Lisa Jones

For the Record

Born Anna Marie Wooldridge, August 6, 1930, in Chicago, IL; performed variously under names Anna Marie, Gaby Lee, and Aminata Moseka; changed name to Abbey Lincoln, 1956; married Max Roach, 1962 (divorced, 1970). Education: studied music with prominent vocal and dramatic coaches, Hollywood, CA, early 1950s.

Worked as a maid, 1949-50; won amateur singing contest, 1950; moved to California to perform in nightclubs, 1951; resident club singer, Honolulu, HI, 1952-54; singer at various clubs, Hollywood, 1954-57; began recording career, 1956; soloist with group led by Max Roach, late 1950s-1960s; as a soloist, recorded and toured, including tours of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Far East, 1970. Assistant professor of African-American Theatre and Pan-African Studies, California State University, 1974.

Film appearances include The Girl Cant Help It, 1956, Nothing But a Man, 1964, For the Love of Ivy, 1968, A Short Walk to Daylight, 1972, and Mo Better Blues, 1990; performed in music, dance, and legitimate theater productions; wrote, directed, and produced play A Pig in a Poke, 1975.

Awards: Best actress awards from the Federation of Italian Filmmakers, 1965, and First World Festival of Negro Arts, 1966, both for Nothing But a Man; most prominent screen person award, 1969, All American Press Association, for For the Love of Ivy; inducted into Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1975.

Addresses: Home New York, NY. Record company Verve, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

of the New York Times. Singers would walk the bar back then, hollering and screaming like instruments, really entertaining the people.

Lincoln returned to Hollywood in 1954 to sing at the Moulin Rouge, a nightclub featuring a French-style revue replete with elephants and pink poodles. Wearing feathered hats and dresses with daring slits, she became Gaby Lee, a name the owners of the club thought sounded French. In 1956, at the advice of her manager, lyricist Bob Russell, she changed her name to Abbey Lincolna combination of Londons Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. Also at that time, she recorded her first album, Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, appearing on the cover in a centerfold pose. I went along with [the cover pose] because I didnt know any better, she related to High Fidelitys Davis years later. I didnt think of myself as a serious artistor as a serious person either. All I wanted was to be thought of as beautiful and desirable. Later that year, Lincoln solidified her sexy image by playing a bit part in the film The Girl Cant Help It, which starred Jayne Mansfield. In the film, Lincoln appeared in a dress that Marilyn Monroe had worn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; she subsequently landed on the cover of Ebony, in June of 1957, as The Girl in Marilyn Monroes Dress.

Down Beats Dom Cerulli encapsulated the public and media impression of Lincoln in a review of a 1957 nightclub performance: Definitely a visual as well as an aural performer. Miss Lincoln [is] a handsome women of striking proportions. She must be seen as well as heard for full appreciation. But her increasing popularity was at odds with her burgeoning social and artistic sensibilities. It was a contradiction in my life, Lincoln told Michael Bourne in Down Beat. I was always a nice girl and now I was this siren! It was about to drive me crazy. I was scared.

Feeling she really wasnt as good a singer as she appeared to be, that she was faking it, Lincoln decided to drop the affectations that had put her in the limelight. Further enlightenment came from the great jazz drummer Max Roach, whom Lincoln met in the late 1950s and married in 1962. He convinced Lincoln that she didnt need Marilyn Monroe-type dresses in order to succeed in music and in life. Max taught me to invest all my creative effort into everything I approach in life, not only the music, she told Downbeats Vercelli. Many of the things I learned from him continue to serve me today, especially the technique of always practicing, even when you are away from your instrument. In a symbolic gesture, she reportedly burned the Monroe dress soon afterward.

Pupil of Roach, Rollins, Coltrane, and Monk

Through Roach, Lincoln began singing with and learning from such jazz giants as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. She also began composing her own music and came in contact with black artists in other fields, intellectuals concerned with the plight of African Americans in American society. It was the early days of the civil rights movement, and we were all asking the same questions, Lincoln explained to Davis. But they were asking questions that glamour girls werent supposed to ask. As I toured the country, I noticed that black people everywhere were living in slums, in abject poverty. I wanted to know why.

Lincolns interest was heartfelt, her questions searching and insightful. She became more aware of her cultural heritage; she began wearing her hair natural. Newsweeks Leland quoted Roach on Lincolns social awareness: She became a symbol for young black women because she was politically astute. [Writers] Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou and other people would all come up and wed have these debate sessions. Because she had the kind of visibility and beauty that you appreciated, it was unsettling to a lot of us men, including me. Because her position would be, not harder, but more pointed than ours. Shed get right down to it.

Lincoln lent her newly driven voice to Roachs 1960 recording We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, which became the jazz anthem of the civil rights movement. One track on the album, Prayer/Protest/Peace, a wordless duet that progressed from hopefulness to screams to peace, brought divided critical reaction. Because it was her voice that assailed the listener, Lincoln was labeled a radical. That view notwithstanding, her change and growth had indeed had an impact, as New York Times contributor Jones noted: Her passage from a bouffant-coiffed starlet to a socially conscious jazz artist with an Afro presaged the course that black identity would take in the 60s.

Lincoln left music in the mid-1960s to focus on acting, but she continued to speak out against the oppression and stereotyping of African Americans, choosing to portray only fully realized characters. She starred opposite Ivan Dixon in the 1964 film Nothing But a Man and in 1968 played the title role opposite Sidney Poitier in the romantic comedy For the Love of Ivy. Though very different, both films were landmarks because of their sensitive, nonpathological portrayals of love, sexuality, and intimacy between a Black woman and man, Jill Nelson wrote in Essence.

An Image the Media Is Not Interested In

Despite winning critical accolades for these film roles, Lincoln was relegated to minor television spots, never allowed to fulfill her potential as an actress. Film historian Donald Bogle, as quoted by Leland, believed Lincoln was an important transitional figure in the portrayal of African Americans on screen and that the only reason she did not progress as an actress was because of the social climate: She was able to project intelligence and poise and sensitivity. She had color. She wasnt a nurturing mammy figure or oversexed. Its an image the media is not interested in or not comfortable with from an African-American woman.

In 1970, frustrated by a stifled acting career and despondent over her recent divorce from Roach, Lincoln sought emotional relief, signing herself into a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York for five weeks. Over the next decade, she rarely performed in the United States, touring and traveling occasionally abroad. In 1972, while on vacation in Africa, Lincoln was given her African names. President Sekou Toure of Guinea presented her the name Aminata in recognition of her inner strength and determination. Moseka, a gift from Zaires Minister of Information, is the god of love in female form.

In 1979, almost 15 years after her last U.S. recording had appeared, Lincoln released People in Me. She had spent the previous decade writing songs, training her voice, and finding inner peace. The results were evident. She shows an uncommon felicity with words, John S. Wilson wrote in High Fidelity. Her settings and moods range from the expansive glow of Africa to a satirical view of female vanity, from an imaginative duet with an inner voice to a listingalmost in Cole Porter fashionof the mixtures of blood strains that flow through all of us. After almost ten years of self-exile, Lincoln had emerged as a strong black wind, blowing gently on and on, poet Nikki Giovanni was quoted as saying by Vercelli.

Throughout most of the 1980s Lincoln labored in the shadows, looking inward, taking the stuff of her own lifethe loneliness, pain, and joyand turning it into music, wrote Essence contributor Nelson. Her approach to songwriting is autobiographical; she records the world as she encounters it and offers it back in telling observations. A singer has the power of the word, she explained to Peter Watrous in the New York Times. What we say is direct.... I come from a long line of great singers who were social and specific and sang about their lives and the lives of their people.

Renewed Acclaim

Lincolns voice has ascended to that of her predecessors not only in content but also in timbre. It is an instrument now often compared to one of her childhood idols, Billie Holiday, a deep, rich voice... probably truer to the emotional content of her songs than to absolute pitch, Leland noted. It can be off-putting or powerfully engaging, butnever prettifiedit doesnt allow listeners much room for neutrality. The persuasive conviction behind the delivery of Lincolns songs, mirroring her charged attention to life, can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama, New York Times contributor Watrous revealed. A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance, and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion.

With two releases in the early 1990sThe World Is Falling Down and You Gotta Pay the Band Lincoln earned both commercial and artistic success. The works were a testament to her life, artistic vision, and overall empathy for humanity. Calling The World Is Falling Down a discourse on life and love from a well-traveled, still passionate soul, Peoples Eric Levin explained, When she sings in the title cut (one of her own), The world is falling down/Hold my hand, hold my hand, the sound is of comfort offered rather than sought.

On 1991 s You Gotta Pay the Band, Lincoln was joined by legendary jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, who died shortly after its release. The music they created and communicated together transcended not only the simple joys of life but the pain at its very end. Down Beats Owen Cordle called it an album with bittersweetness and poignancy in the air. Lincolns voice is the black earth, Getzs saxophone soft summer clouds. Knowing he was dying, how could they get through Lincolns When Im Called Home without pity? Such is the triumph of great art, of which this album is an example.

Selected compositions

You and Me, My Lover, Throw It Away, Caged Bird, Painted Lady, Talking to the Sun, The River, People on the Street, The World Is Falling Down, I Got Thunder (and It Rings), First Song, Bird Alone, When Im Called Home.

Selected discography

Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, Liberty, 1956.

Thats Him!, Riverside, 1957, reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

Its Magic, Riverside, 1958, reissued Fantasy/OJC, 1985.

Abbey Is Blue, Riverside, 1959, reissued Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

(With Max Roach) We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, Candid, 1960.

Straight Ahead, Candid, 1961.

(With Roach) Its Time, Impulse, 1962.

People in Me, Inner City, 1979.

Golden Lady, Inner City, 1981.

Talking to the Sun, Enja, 1984.

Abbey Sings Billie, Enja, 1987.

The World Is Falling Down, Verve, 1990.

You Gotta Pay the Band, Verve, 1991.

Abbey Sings Billie, Volume 2, Enja, 1992.

Devils Got Your Tongue, Verve, 1993.

Sources

Down Beat, February 20, 1957; September 6, 1979; December 1980; March 1982; January 1987; December 1991; February 1992.

Ebony, June 1957.

High Fidelity, June 1979; May 1986.

Jazz Journal International, May 1981.

Musician, February 1993.

Newsweek, January 6, 1992.

New York Times, March 3, 1989; August 4, 1991; August 11, 1991.

People, December 17, 1990.

Stereo Review, January 1985.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the documentary You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, and the Life of Abbey Lincoln, PBS-TV, 1992.

Rob Nagel

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Lincoln, Abbey." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Lincoln, Abbey." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lincoln-abbey

"Lincoln, Abbey." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/lincoln-abbey

Lincoln, Abbey

Abbey Lincoln

Singer, composer

Walked the Bar

Pupil of Roach, Rollins, Coltrane, and Monk

Renewed Acclaim

“Consummate Storyteller”

Selected discography

Selected writings

Sources

“Image not available for copyright reasons”

Abbey Lincoln “is a culture bearer,” jazz singer Cassandra Wilson told John Leland in Newsweek. “There’s certain people inside the African-American experience that act as griots, bearers of the culture, and they help to carry on the traditions and transmit knowledge and understanding of our heritage. Paul Robeson was something like that. And so is she.”

For four decades Lincoln’s life has been a constant transformation of experience, of awakenings into growth, of the communication of what she has witnessed. She has grown through many stages: a naive young lounge singer; a movie and jazz club sex kitten; a vocal African-American with a deepened cultural awareness; a sensitive actress contradicting cultural perceptions; an artistic and cultural exile; a poetic jazz sage. She has gone by many names, finding and then defining herself individually, culturally, and humanistically. Lincoln’s music, which at first served as an escape from the life around her, grew into a means of expression, understanding, and communication with others.

Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents soon moved the family to Calvin Center, Michigan, her mother believing a rural area was the best place to raise a family. Since the family was poor, the children often had to entertain themselves with singing, but as the tenth of twelve children, Lincoln had a hard time distinguishing herself. “I preferred to sing alone—to be the centerpiece,” she recounted to Francis Davis in High Fidelity. “The living room piano was my private space, once I discovered that singing could win me attention and admiration.” She also sang in school and church choirs, often as a soloist. Her musical approach, however, was mainly influenced by recordings of singers her father borrowed from neighbors: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne. “I was particularly impressed with Lena Horne; for a while I totally emulated her style and voice,” Lincoln explained to Gary G. Vercelli in Down Beat. “Then I had the opportunity to see Lena perform. It was then that I knew I no longer wanted to be like Lena, “cause her message was so loud and clear to be yourself.”

Walked the Bar

Lincoln proved her own singing capabilities by winning an amateur contest when she was 19 and began her musical career by moving to Los Angeles to sing in nightclubs. By 1952, she had moved to Honolulu to perform as a resident club singer under the stage name Anna Marie, but she still hadn’t developed her own identity as a singer. “I sang songs I heard Rosemary Clooney sing, songs that were popular on the radio,” Lincoln told Lisa Jones of the New York Times. “Singers would walk the bar back then, hollering and screaming like instruments, really entertaining the people.”

For the Record…

Born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930, in Chicago, IL; performed variously under names Anna Marie, Gaby Lee, and Aminata Moseka; changed name to Abbey Lincoln, 1956; married Max Roach, 1962; divorced, 1970. Education: Studied music with prominent vocal and dramatic coaches, Hollywood, CA, early 1950s.

Worked as a maid, 1949-50; won amateur singing contest, 1950; moved to California to perform in nightclubs, 1951; performed as resident singer in a club in Honolulu, HI, 1952-54; returned to Hollywood to perform as a singer at various clubs, 1954-57; began recording career, 1956; sang as a soloist and with a group led by Max Roach, late 1950s-1960s; recorded and toured as a soloist, including tours of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Far East, 1970-; assistant professor of African-American Theatre and Pan-African Studies, California State University, 1974; released seven albums on Verve Records, 1990-2000; made guest appearances on television shows, including Flip Wilson, Marcus Welby, M.D., Mission Impossible, and All in the Family; performed in music and dance productions and in theater productions; directed and produced play A Pig in a Poke, 1975; appeared as lead or supporting actress in films, including The Girl Can’t Help It, 1956, Nothing But a Man, 1964, For the Love of Ivy, 1968, A Short Walk to Daylight, 1972, and Mo’ Better Blues, 1990.

Awards: Federation of Italian Filmmakers, Best Actress, 1965; First World Festival of Negro Arts, Best Actress for Nothing But a Man, 1966; All American Press Association, Most Prominent Screen Person Award for For the Love of Ivy, 1969; induction, Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1975.

Addresses: Record company—Verve Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.vervemusicgroup.com.

Lincoln returned to Hollywood in 1954 to sing at the Moulin Rouge, a nightclub with a French-style revue featuring elephants and pink-dyed poodles. Wearing feathered hats and dresses with daring slits, she became Gaby Lee, a name the owners of the club thought sounded French. In 1956, under the advice of her manager, lyricist Bob Russell, she changed her name to Abbey Lincoln—a combination of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. That year, she also recorded her first album, Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, appearing on the cover in a centerfold pose. “I went along with [the cover pose] because I didn’t know any better,” she related to Davis years later. “I didn’t think of myself as a serious artist—or as a serious person either. All I wanted was to be thought of as beautiful and desirable.” Later in 1956, Lincoln solidified her sexy image by playing a bit part in the film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield. In the film she wore a dress that Marilyn Monroe had worn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and she subsequently appeared on the cover of Ebony in June of 1957 as “The Girl in Marilyn Monroe’s Dress.”

But this extensive popularity was at odds with her burgeoning social and artistic sensibilities. “It was a contradiction in my life,” Lincoln described to Michael Bourne in Down Beat. “I was always a nice girl and now I was this siren! It was about to drive me crazy. I was scared.” Feeling she really wasn’t as good a singer as she appeared to be, that she was faking it, Lincoln decided to drop the affectations and pretenses that put her in the limelight. Further enlightenment came from the great jazz drummer Max Roach, whom Lincoln met in the late 1950s and married in 1962. He convinced Lincoln that she didn’t need Marilyn Monroe-type dresses in order to succeed in music and in life. “Max taught me to invest all my creative effort into everything I approach in life, not only the music,” she told Vercelli. “Many of the things I learned from him continue to serve me today, especially the technique of always practicing, even when you are away from your instrument.” In a symbolic gesture, she reportedly burned the dress soon afterward.

Pupil of Roach, Rollins, Coltrane, and Monk

Through Roach, Lincoln met and began playing with and learning from such serious jazz artists as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, and Kenny Dorham. She began composing her own music. She also came in contact with black artists in other fields, intellectuals concerned with the plight of African-Americans in American society at the time. “It was the early days of the civil rights movement, and we were all asking the same questions,” Lincoln explained to Davis. “But they were asking questions that glamour girls weren’t supposed to ask. As I toured the country, I noticed that black people everywhere were living in slums, in abject poverty. I wanted to know why.”

Lincoln’s interest was heartfelt, her questions searching and insightful. She became more aware of her cultural heritage; she began wearing her hair natural. Leland quoted Roach on Lincoln’s social awareness: “She became a symbol for young black women because she was politically astute. [Writers] Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou and other people would all come up and we’d have these debate sessions. Because she had the kind of visibility and beauty that you appreciated, it was unsettling to a lot of us men, including me. Because her position would be, not harder, but more pointed than ours. She’d get right down to it.”

Lincoln lent her newly emotion-filled voice to Roach’s 1960 recording We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, which became the jazz anthem of the civil rights movement. One piece on the album, “Prayer/Protest/Peace,” a wordless duet between Lincoln and Roach that progressed from hopefulness to screams to peace, brought divided critical reaction. Because it was her voice that yelled at the listener, Lincoln was labeled a radical. But her recent change and growth had an impact, as Jones noted: “Her passage from a bouffant-coiffed starlet to a socially conscious jazz artist with an Afro presaged the course that black identity would take in the ’60s.”

Lincoln left music recording in the mid-1960s to focus on an acting career, but she continued to speak out against the oppression and stereotyping of African-Americans in that period, choosing to portray only fully fleshed-out characters. She starred opposite Ivan Dixon in the 1964 film Nothing But a Man and in 1968 played the title role opposite Sidney Poitier in the romantic comedy For the Love of Ivy. “Though very different, both films were landmarks because of their sensitive, nonpathological portrayals of love, sexuality, and intimacy between a Black woman and man,” Jill Nelson wrote in Essence. Despite winning critical accolades for these film roles, Lincoln was relegated to minor television spots, never being allowed to fulfill her possible destiny as an accomplished and highly visible actress.

In 1970, frustrated by a stifled acting career and despondent over her recent divorce from Roach, Lincoln sought emotional relief, signing herself into a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York for five weeks. Over the next decade, Lincoln rarely performed in the United States, touring and traveling occasionally outside of the country. In 1972, while on vacation in Africa, Lincoln was given her African names. President Sekou Toure of Guinea presented her the name “Aminata” in recognition of her inner strength and determination. The name “Moseka,” a gift from Zaire’s Minister of Information, denotes the god of love in female form.

In 1979, almost 15 years after her last American release, Lincoln offered People in Me. She had spent the decade writing songs, training her voice, and finding inner peace. The results were evident on the album. “She shows an uncommon felicity with words,” John S. Wilson wrote in High Fidelity. “Her settings and moods range from the expansive glow of ‘Africa’ to a satirical view of female vanity, from an imaginative duet with an inner voice to a listing—almost in Cole Porter fashion—of the mixtures of blood strains that flow through all of us.” After almost ten years of self-exile, Lincoln had emerged as a “strong black wind, blowing gently on and on,” poet Nikki Giovanni was quoted as saying by Vercelli. Throughout most of the 1980s, Lincoln continued “in the shadows, looking inward, taking the stuff of her own life—the loneliness, pain, and joy—and turning it into music,” Nelson wrote.

Renewed Acclaim

Lincoln’s voice has ascended to that of her celebrated predecessors not only in content but also in timbre. It is a voice now often compared to one of her childhood idols, Billie Holiday, a “deep, rich voice… probably truer to the emotional content of her songs than to absolute pitch,” Leland noted. “It can be off-putting or powerfully engaging, but—never prettified—it doesn’t allow listeners much room for neutrality.” The persuasive conviction behind the delivery of her songs, mirroring her emotional attention to life, “can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama,” Watrous described. “A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance, and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion.” The Holiday comparison is one that Lincoln, who recorded two albums of Holiday’s songs, embraces.

With two releases in the early 1990s—The World Is Falling Down and You Gotta Pay the Band—Lincoln earned both commercial and artistic success. Both are a testament to her life, her artistic vision, her overall empathy for humanity. The World Is Falling Down is a “discourse on life and love from a well-traveled, still passionate soul,” Eric Levin wrote in a review for People. “When she sings in the title cut (one of her own), ‘The world is falling down/Hold my hand, hold my hand,’ the sound is of comfort offered rather than sought.”

On 1991’s You Gotta Pay the Band, Lincoln was joined by jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, who died shortly after its release. The music they created and communicated together transcended not only the simple joys of life but the pain at its very end. Down Beat’s Owen Cordle called it “an album with bittersweetness and poignancy in the air. Lincoln’s voice is the black earth, Getz’s saxophone soft summer clouds. Knowing he was dying, how could they get through Lincoln’s ‘When I’m Called Home’ without pity? Such is the triumph of great art, of which this album is an example.”

“Consummate Storyteller”

Lincoln continued her prolific output through the 1990s, creating a large, distinctive catalog of new material on Verve Records. Beginning with The World Is FallingDown and ending with Over the Years, an album that serves as a summation of her long and varied career, Lincoln released seven albums on the label between 1990 and 2000, coming into her own as a composer and lyricist over the years. “She writes songs,” Jill Nelson wrote in Essence, “that are not simply personal but also emblematic of women’s search for power, love, community, for belonging with integrity.” People’s David Grogan called her a “consummate storyteller.”

Lincoln’s popular acclaim continues to grow with each new album she releases. She welcomes the popularity, confessing to Time writer Jack E. White, “I thought I was going to die in obscurity,” in 1993. She presented a stunning three-night retrospective of her career at New York’s Jazz at the Lincoln Center in March of 2002. As she grows older (Lincoln turned 73 in 2003), the realization of the importance of her music as a lasting legacy has hit her. “Sing a song correctly, and you live forever,” Lincoln told Down Beat writer Jim Macnie. “Ella didn’t go anywhere. She’s right here with us. Same with Louis Armstrong. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever found to do in my life.”

Selected discography

Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, Liberty, 1956.

That’s Him!, Riverside, 1957; reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

It’s Magic, Riverside, 1958; reissued, Fantasy/OJC, 1985.

Abbey Is Blue, Riverside, 1959; reissued by Fantasy/OJC, 1983.

(With Max Roach) We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite, Candid, 1960.

Straight Ahead, Candid, 1961.

(With Max Roach) It’s Time, Impulse, 1962.

People in Me, Inner City, 1979.

Golden Lady, Inner City, 1981.

Talking to the Sun, Enja, 1984.

Abbey Sings Billie, Enja, 1987.

Abbey Sings Billie Vol. 2, Enja, 1987.

The World Is Falling Down, Verve, 1990.

You Gotta Pay the Band, Verve, 1991.

Devil’s Got Your Tongue, Verve, 1992.

When There is Love, Verve, 1994.

A Turtle’s Dream, Verve, 1994.

Who Used to Dance Verve, 1996.

Painted Lady: In Paris (live), EPM Musique, 1996.

You & I, Jazzfest, 1997.

Wholly Earth, Polygram, 1999.

Over the Years, Verve, 2000.

Selected writings

A Pig in a Poke (play), 1975.

“In a Circle, Everything Is Up,” unpublished volume of poetry.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, volume 3, Gale Research, 1992.

Periodicals

Down Beat, February 20, 1957; September 6, 1979; December 1980; March 1982; January 1987; December 1991; February 1992; August 1995; July 1997; June 2002.

Ebony, June 1957.

Essence, April 1992.

High Fidelity, June 1979; May 1986.

Jazz Journal International, May 1981.

Newsweek, January 6, 1992.

New York Times, March 3, 1989; August 4, 1991; August 11, 1991.

People, December 17, 1990; September 11, 1995.

Stereo Review, January 1985.

Time, May 17, 1993.

Variety, November 6, 2000.

Online

“Abbey Lincoln,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (April 15, 2003).

Additional information was obtained from a documentary of Lincoln’s life, You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, and the Life of Abbey Lincoln, which aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), February of 1992.

Rob Nagel

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