[Marxism] Abbey Lincoln, Jazz Singer and Writer, Dies at 80
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Sun Aug 15 07:32:45 MDT 2010
NY Times August 14, 2010
Abbey Lincoln, Jazz Singer and Writer, Dies at 80
By NATE CHINEN
Abbey Lincoln, a singer whose dramatic vocal command and tersely poetic
songs made her a singular figure in jazz, died on Saturday in Manhattan.
She was 80 and lived on the Upper West Side.
Her death was announced by her brother David Wooldridge.
Ms. 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, including one with Sidney Poitier.
Long 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 Lincoln Center in
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.
“Her 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
She 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 Wilson said.
“Investing your lyrics with what your life is about in the moment.”
Ms. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago on Aug. 6, 1930,
the 10th of 12 children, and raised in rural Michigan. 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 Los Angeles, 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” (Liberty), 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 Riverside 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 Monroe 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.”
Ms. Lincoln, who married Mr. Roach in 1962, was for a while more active
as an actress than a singer. In 1964 she starred with Ivan Dixon in
“Nothing but a Man,” a tale of the Deep South in the 1960s, and in 1968
she was the title character opposite Mr. Poitier in the romantic comedy
“For Love of Ivy,” playing a white family’s maid. She also acted on
television in guest-starring roles in the ’60s and ’70s.
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 Los Angeles and withdrew from the spotlight for a time. She never
In addition to Mr. Wooldridge, Ms. Lincoln is survived by another
brother, Kenneth Wooldridge, and a sister, Juanita Baker.
During a visit to Africa in 1972, Ms. Lincoln received two honorary
appellations from political officials: Moseka, in Zaire, and Aminata, in
Guinea. (Moseka would occasionally serve as her surname.) She began to
consider her calling as a storyteller and focused on writing songs.
Moving back to New York in the 1980s, Ms. Lincoln resumed performing,
eventually attracting the attention of Jean-Philippe Allard, a producer
and executive with PolyGram France. 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 Man.”
For “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.
When 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 worthwhile.”
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