Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Anna Marie Wooldridge, 6 August 1930, Chicago; d 14 August 2010, Manhattan) Jazz singer, actress, composer. She grew up in rural Michigan, the 10th of 12 children; she worked in dance bands as teenager, went to the West Coast in 1951 and sang in Hawaii as Gaby Lee, and met Billie Holiday there. She was deeply influenced by Holiday, but had a deeper voice and a more personal style of interpretation.

Back on the mainland songwriter Bob Russell changed her name to Abbey Lincoln. She worked in clubs and made her first album, with Benny Carter '56 (Affair on Liberty, later on Capitol), appeared in film The Girl Can't Help It '57. Albums with more great jazzmen were That's Him! (with Sonny Rollins and Max Roach), It's Magic and Abbey Is Blue '57-9, now in the Fantasy/Concord vault. As well as a fine singer, she was beautiful, sexy and glamorous, but Roach began to influence her, raising her social consciousness and encouraging her to write; her singing also became more personal, putting the words across with a unique combination of projection and restraint. On Candid '60-1 Roach played on her Straight Ahead (including 'Retribution', with her own words) and she sang on his We Insist: Freedom Now Suite (with Oscar Brown Jr's lyrics), a landmark of the civil rights era (and also on his Sounds As A Roach '68, live in Oslo on Japanese labels). They were married in '62, divorced '70; she never remarried. After Straight Ahead she made no albums of her own in the 1960s, but appeared in films Nothing But A Man (1964, with Ivan Dixon) and For The Love Of Ivy (1968, a romantic comedy with Sidney Poitier). She was also active in community affairs, taught drama at California State University, appeared on TV (sang on the Flip Wilson show, acted in Mission Impossible, etc).

During a visit to Africa '72 she was given honorary names in Zaire and Guinea, and later called herself Aminata Moseka for a while; and she began to come back to her writing, seeing herself as a storyteller. She made People In Me '73 in Tokyo (the first album with all her own songs; later on Verve) and Painted Lady '80 in Paris (later on EPM Musique). She moved back to New York; Talking To The Sun '83 and two volumes of Abbey Sings Billie on Enja '87 were on Enja. She appeared in Spike Lee's movie Mo' Better Blues '90. Then came a new career impetus on Polygram labels, and her central success as a songwriter. She credited her producer Jean-Philipe Allard with seeing to it that her albums were marketed: The World Is Falling Down '90 was a critical and commercial success, and more albums followed including Devil's Got Your Tongue with J. J. Johnson, Stanley Turrentine and the Staple Singers, You Gotta Pay The Band with Stan Getz and When There Is Love, both with Hank Jones; and A Turtle's Dream '94 (mostly her own songs) with Roy Hargrove, Kenny Barron and Pat Metheny. Painted Lady '95 included Archie Shepp; Who Used To Dance '96 had Steve Coleman and Oliver Lake; Wholly Earth '98 with Nicholas Payten and Bobby Hutcherson was followed by Over the Years 2000. Her work, rich in reflection, was summed up in three retrospective concerts presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2002, followed by a final album, Abbey Sings Abbey in 2007.