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Artist Profile: Jazz Vocalist Abbey Lincoln


Abbey Lincoln Jazz Singer
© Tad Hershorn / Getty Images

August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. Her given name was Anna Marie Wooldridge.


August 14th, 2010 in New York City.

Jazz Vocalist, Composer, Actress, and Voice of Civil Rights

Singing alongside jazz greats such as Stan Getz, Max Roach, and Sonny Rollins is just a part of vocalist and composer Abbey Lincoln’s expansive career. She began as a cabaret singer, starred in films with Sidney Poitier, and became one of the first musicians to sound her voice as a call against racism in the United States. She continued to develop her own music into her late 70s.

Abbey Lincoln, who was born Anna Marie Wooldridge, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Michigan. She first walked the stage soaked in satin and glamour as a nightclub singer in Honolulu, Hawaii in the early 1950s. Her manager, the lyricist Bob Russell, coined her stage name, which combines Westminster Abbey with Abraham Lincoln.

In Hawaii, Lincoln met Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and was inspired to leave the sultry and glitzy path in search of deeper musical experiences. Sharing certain timbral elements of Holiday’s voice, and taking on a similar brooding and introspective performance technique, Lincoln made an easy transition into jazz. Her sumptuous image remained in tact when she released her first album, Affair … A Story of a Girl in Love in 1956, but shortly thereafter abandoned this persona, even burning her stylish dress that had been worn by Marilyn Monroe.

Her next album, That’s Him (Riverside, 1957), featured Sonny Rollins, Paul Chambers, and the drummer Max Roach, whom she would marry in 1962. Roach, who was not only a prominent bebop musician, but also an outspoken civil rights activist, brought Lincoln under his wing, and featured her on his politically charged 1960 album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.

In the 1960s, Lincoln’s career became focused around acting. She had dominant roles in films and television, and even starred opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1968 movie For Love of Ivy.

After divorcing Roach in 1970, Lincoln led a solitary lifestyle in Los Angeles, and took a soul-searching trio to Africa. She turned inward, and explored her abilities as a songwriter, composer, and folk singer. She moved to New York City in the 1980s, and recorded albums throughout the next few decades with musicians such as Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Roy Hargrove, Kenny Barron, and many others.

Lincoln released her last album, Abbey Sings Abbey, in 2007. The recording focused solely on Lincoln’s original lyrics and compositions, many of which involved a folk-music aesthetic inspired by Bob Dylan and other American roots music songwriters. The songs highlight Lincoln’s deep and reflective thinking, and feature her dark and introspective vocal style.

Abbey Lincoln died on August 14th, 2010 after three years of suffering ill health following open heart surgery in 2007. She was 80 years old.

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