The iconic jazz singer and songwriter Abbey Lincoln, known for her fierce stance on civil rights as much as for her soulful melodies, has died. Ms. Lincoln was 80 years old and lived in New York City.
Ms. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930 and started her career in the 1950's supper club circuit. Taking the name Abbey Lincoln as "a symbolic conjoining of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln," she met the innovative drummer Max Roach and in 1957 they made the first in a series of stellar recordings.
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. 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 Los Angeles and withdrew from the spotlight for a time. She never remarried.
Above are screen captures from Ms. Lincoln's first film, the Jayne Mansfield cult classic The Girl Can’t Help It. Lincoln was the epitome of 1950s glamour: In the movie she sported a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Jazz fans may appreciate this Russian digital archive of Ms. Lincoln's album covers and photographs.
Abbey Lincoln became identified as one of the singular artists of the American jazz era. Ms. Lincoln also was unusual in that she wrote and performed many of her own compositions, expanding the expectations of jazz audiences. "Her utter individuality and intensely passionate delivery can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama,” wrote critic Peter Watrous 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."
Watch Lincoln's magic with the great Max Roach, and at the Marciac jazz festival performing "Down Here Below" and "Bird Alone", WHEN YOU JUMP ...