Jazz Singer, Actress and Civil Rights Activist strongly influenced by Billie Holiday

Abbey Lincoln in 1959.

Abbey Lincoln in 1959. Photograph: Paul Hoeffler/Redferns
  THE REVOLUTIONARILY INCOMPARABLE ABBEY LINCOLN- AMINATA MOSEKA AND BAD BLACK EXPO HISTORICAL SUCCESS! Anna Marie Wooldridge (August 6, 1930 – August 14, 2010), known professionally as Abbey Lincoln- Aminata Moseka, was a towering figure of film, TV, stage, musical expression, feminism, and Afrocentrism who led a colorful life- the FIRST FEMALE of COLOR to appear in Rock-n-Roll film, actress, cover girl, model, jazz vocalist, singer, songwriter, and political activist. She was spirited, spiritual, an original fashion icon, Abbey was the FIRST FEMALE entertainer to rock an Afro hairdo that led hairdressers to protest she was going to put them out of business. During the 1940’s to the late 1960’s, Ms. Lincoln had considerable success as she built her career in the late 1950s through the turbulent 1960s, she was a civil rights activist beginning in the 1960s, then stepped away during the 1970s and, years later, returned to prominence as a singer praised for her songwriting abilities. Lincoln made a career out of delivering deeply felt presentations of standards as well as writing and singing her own material wherein her lyrics often reflected the ideals of the civil rights movement and helped in generating passion for the cause in the minds of her listeners. Aminata is enjoying a renaissance and receiving Critical Acclaim in the “Summer Of Soul (… Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”, Questlove’s documentary of the The Harlem Cultural Festival, which was filmed Live in Marcus Garvey Park (formerly Mount Morris Park) in Harlem over the summer of 1969. The event celebrated Black history, culture and fashion over the course of six weeks and features never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Ray Baretto, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach and more.

The event features Abbey Lincoln’s commanding performance of “Africa,” the John Coltrane composition, which she outfitted with her own lyrics. The band blares behind her, propelled from the drums by her then-husband, Max Roach, as she testifies about “a land of milk and honey” on the River Nile. Lincoln may be singing about the Promised Land, but pay close attention to the fire in her delivery, especially as she enters the home stretch — as if she’s saying, We still have a long road ahead. If Abbey Lincoln was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being proclaimed “the last of the jazz singers”, she never let it show. As her great contemporaries and principal influences among the classic female jazz vocalists fell away – with Billie Holiday the first to go, in 1959, and Betty Carter the last, in 1998 – Lincoln steadfastly maintained her dignified, almost solemn, focus; her tart, deftly timed Holiday-like inflections, and her commitment to songs that dug deeper into life’s meanings than the usual lost-love exhalations. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago, the 10th of 12 children, but raised on a farm in Michigan. She loved performing as a small child, and listened to music constantly – later recalling hearing Holiday and Coleman Hawkins on a hand-cranked Victrola gramophone. Anna Marie moved with her mother to Kalamazoo, Michigan, when she was 14, and began teaching herself piano, singing in school and with local bands. She moved to California in 1951 in search of a singing career, and performed in local clubs including the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles, then spent two years singing in Honolulu, where she met Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong before coming back to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, she worked with lyricist Bob Russell who had become her manager, and she adopted other stage-names, including Gaby Lee. Russell that suggested she change her name and became Abbey Lincoln, a symbolic conjoining inspired by Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. Abbey Lincoln’s career started very much in the mold that Lena Horne had established several decades earlier. Very sexualized, glamorous, singing these popular hits. 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.  Lincoln made a splash not only because of her voice, but her physical beauty.  Early album covers featured her in slinky dresses, and she appeared in the Jayne Mansfield movie wearing the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and interpreted the theme song, working with the saxophonist Benny Carter’s band.

Abbey Lincoln (Aminata Moseka) had a role in the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It,” in which she wore a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. The appearance, coupled with her first album, “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love,” gave her a glamorous image.

Abbey Lincoln (Aminata Moseka) had a role in the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It,” in which she wore a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. The appearance, coupled with her first album, “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love,” gave her a glamorous image.
With Ivan Dixon, she co-starred in Nothing But a Man (1964), an independent film written and directed by Michael Roemer. In 1968 she co-starred with Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges in For Love of Ivy and received a 1969 Golden Globe nomination for her appearance in the film. She appeared in Mission:Impossible, 1971 with Greg Morris, Television appearances began in 1968 with The Name of the Game. In March 1969 for WGBH-TV Boston, in one of a 10-episode series of individual dramas written, produced and performed by blacks, “On Being Black,” was her work in Alice Childress’s Wine in the Wilderness. She appeared in Mission: Impossible (1971), the telemovie Short Walk to Daylight (1972), Marcus Welby, M.D. (1974), and All in the Family (1978). In the 1990 Spike Lee movie Mo’ Better Blues, Abbey Lincoln played the young Bleek’s mother, Lillian. “Lincoln was a really gifted person and a truly wonderful actress. She was the kind of person you expected to live forever,” Poitier told The Times. “She was gifted in so many ways. She was quite productive, and it was quite rewarding for those of us who heard her sing and watched her act.” BUT, the appearance the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe, coupled with her first album, gave her a glamorous image. “I started out being a sexy young thing in a Marilyn Monroe dress,” she told The Times in 2000, “And Max Roach freed me from that.” As mentioned, that changed when Lincoln turned her back on that image, she started working with jazz drummer Max Roach, whose music would reflect the coming civil rights struggle casting herself instead as a civil rights advocate, dressing in African-inspired clothing and hairstyles, and making music with a political tone as a testament against racism. Explaining her image makeover in 1993, Lincoln told The Associated Press, “This dress was more important than I was.  People in the audience were looking at my exposed breasts and the shape of my body, and it didn’t have nothing to do with the music.”… It wasn’t a dream of mine to be a star, so Max came along at the right time to help save me from myself. Otherwise, I would have become an alcoholic and unhappy.” She made one of her first appearances on national television in 1958, on “The Steve Allen Show,” and the performance can be retrieved from history on YouTube

Allen, probably thinking he was flattering her as a black woman by pawing all over her in words, introduces her as “one of the loveliest young singers we’ve had the pleasure of looking at and listening to on this show in a long time, the beautiful Abbey Lincoln,” and she accommodates him and the panting male public by slithering around as she sings a hipster bossa version of the old swing standard “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis.” She moved to New York, became more invested in changing her musical style, in jazz vocals and she also became more interested in Black politics. Though she made a debut recording as a leader in the mid-1950s, Lincoln was primarily a club singer, with a distinctive though still unformed sound at the time, but a restless curiosity and intelligence made her gravitate toward the company of some of the most progressive jazz musicians of the period – including the pianists Thelonious Monk and Mal Waldron, and the drummer Max Roach. Lincoln: “Well, I came to New York and met all these people — you know, these writers, painters, musicians – who told me why it was, every time I would go to a city, I’d find my relatives, the people that I represented, living in hovels and they didn’t have anything in the ’50s in this progressive scene that’s being refueled.” Some of that political culture, some of that political energy was being reformed in these different nightclubs. Roach, one of the most powerful influences on the rhythmic thinking of the bebop pioneers of a decade before, introduced Lincoln to the producer Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records in 1957. Her first release was That’s Him! – a session displaying the maturing talents of both a powerful musical force and a strong character, and featuring a pedigree bebop lineup including the trumpeter Kenny Dorham, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis’s piano/bass combination of Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers, and Roach. Though only in her 20’s, she was already giving the conventional mannerisms of jazz standard-singers ironic twists. She was later to declare that Roach’s arrival in her life was the moment at which she found her way as a jazz artist, but these early recordings suggest that her individuality had been developing over a longer period. While working with Roach and becoming immersed in the struggles of black people around the world, she earned a reputation for being a warrior. “She was committed to her art, she seemed very clear of what her purpose was, what she was to do.” Lincoln once said that when people leave this Earth, they spread their wings of miracles in a blaze of light and disappear. Luckily, Lincoln’s spirit lives on in her recordings. Abbey Lincoln, the legendary jazz vocalist who believed that singing is a political act, “Freedom, say freedom. Throw those shackles and chains away…” In autumn 1960, Lincoln participated in the recording of one of the most celebrated jazz contributions to a wider political and social context, Roach and Oscar Brown Jr. landmark, “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite”. A testament against racism with ambitious splicing of work-song rhythms, the authoritative tenor sax of Hawkins counterbalancing Booker Little’s mercurial bop trumpet playing, multi-percussion ensemble sections and Lincoln’s moving…… raging lyrics, powerful vocals, screams and all, saturated the soul, putting her at the forefront of the civil rights movement! Freedom Now became a milestone in jazz history. The following year, Lincoln recorded Straight Ahead, with Hawkins, Little and Roach from the Freedom Now lineup, plus the multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy among other guests.

A fashion icon, Abbey was the FIRST FEMALE entertainer to rock an Afro hairdo that led hairdressers to protest she was going to put them out of business. She played a large role in civil rights activism in the 1960s as she and other artists performed at benefits and fundraisers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), among other civil rights groups. Lincoln’s music began to reflect injustices blacks experienced in America in albums like We Insist! Freedom Now Suite and Straight Ahead, put her voice smack in the middle of the soundtrack of the civil-rights movement. In “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace,” Lincoln literally screams her anger. But that’s not how she started out. Village Voice jazz critic Nat Hentoff supervised the recording of the Freedom Now Suite and watched Lincoln transform from a sultry nightclub singer into a more sophisticated artist.  Feldstein: Abbey Lincoln’s career started very much in the mold that Lena Horne had established several decades earlier. Very sexualized, glamorous, singing these popular hits. She moved to New York — she became more invested in changing her musical style. She became more invested in jazz vocals and she also became more interested in Black politics. Lincoln: Well, I came to New York and met all these people — you know, these writers, painters, musicians – who told me why it was, every time I would go to a city, I’d find my relatives, the people that I represented, living in hovels and they didn’t have anything! The 50’s in this progressive scene that’s being refueled with some of that political culture, some of that political energy is being reformed in these different nightclubs.” Lincoln’s metamorphosis from a sultry club singer into a more sophisticated artist stemmed form her ability to play with the rhythm, phrasing and vibe of the lyrics made her unique. Lincoln’s explicit emotionalism and liberties with pitching and intonation sometimes seemed to push her intentions and execution to the verge of separation – contemporary acquaintances including Monk and Charles Mingus were also expanding her ideas and technical ambitions – but she sounded nonetheless like an artist inhabiting a musical world increasingly her own, particularly on such tracks as the boldly vocalized Blue Monk, which Monk himself endorsed. Abbey, Maya Angelou and a Trinidadian-African, named Rosa Guy, formed the Cultural Association for Women of African Heritage. These women took heroic stands on African issues in the United States and aboard. When Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected president of the Congo, was assassinated on January 17, 1961, this group went into action. These women, along with men like Max Roach, disrupted a United Nations meeting after learning that Lumumba had been murdered by Belgian imperialist and their Congolese stooges. This action took place on February 14, 1961. On a trip to Africa in 1972, Lincoln received two surnames, Guinea’s former President Ahmed Sekou Toure gave her the name Aminata and the Minister of Information of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) named her Moseka. She had traveled to Africa as a guest of Miriam Makeba.

In 1973 Aminata released the Album “People in Me” and “Blue Monk” with introduction by James Earl Jones: Abdul-Jalil and SUPERSTAR MANAGEMENT worked with Aminata Moseka where she appeared at the BAD BLACK EXPO, and other events including a SPECIAL “MEN’S ONLY NIGHT” held LIVE INSIDE a Montgomery Wards in Richmond, CA., hosted by Abdul-Jalil! There were LIVE Models with a Fashion Show, Free Refreshment, Door prizes, music by; Marvin Holmes and the Uptights; Jay Payton- MC; LIVE BROADCAST of KSOL Radio; with appearances from MOTION PICTURE  STARS Renee Santoni- “Owen Marshall”; Julie Gregg- “Godfather I and II”; Rose Brumfield- “The Mack”, “Norman Is That You?”; Allen Garfield- “Candidate”, “Bracken World”; Olympians Eddie Hart, Dave Smith, and many other Sports Stars; Demonstrations- Hair stylist Fosters International, Food, Clothing, Product; Disc Jockies from KDIA, KFRC, KRE, KSAN, KSOL, KSFX. Lincoln also made the albums Over the Years (2000), “It’s Me” (in 2003, the year she received the National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Award) and Naturally (2006). In 2007, she released her last album, “Abbey Sings Abbey” – a poignant collection of new originals, covers of favorites such as Leonard Bernstein’s “Lucky To Be Me”, a bold a cappella account of “Tender As a Rose” and a distinctive reinvention of “Windmills of Your Mind”, with a superb Joe Lovano on saxophone. As she once said: “I live through music and it lives through me.” It was no exaggeration. “There was a passion to what she did,” said jazz critic Don Heckman, who noted that Lincoln’s songwriting made her a rarity among jazz singers. “She was not someone who was just singing a song. She had an agenda, and a lot of it had to do with civil rights…. She expressed herself in dramatic and impressive fashion in what she said and how she sang.” Her voice was a “special instrument, producing a sound that is parched rather than pure or perfect,” wrote the New York Times’ Peter Watrous in 1996. “But her limitations infuse her singing with honesty. More important, she understands the words she sings, declaiming them with a flare of memory that seems to illuminate all the lost love and sadness people experience.” “Not so much vocally as visually — a slight toss of the head, a jutting of the jaw,” he wrote. “As Lincoln said, ‘We all stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us.’ One of the few divas of her genre. She was a firebrand, known for her passion and honesty. She’s an artistic maverick who’s spent a lifetime going her own way. In the process, she’s become one of the most influential female jazz singers of our time, an achievement that isn’t lost on her. Her world-weary timbre gets at the root of a phrase. She plays with the time and the shape of melody in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and especially Billie Holiday. The result is an emotional punch that even today leaves audiences breathless. Lincoln- Aminata Moseka, died on August 14, 2010, in Manhattan, eight days after her 80th birthday. Her death was announced by her brother, David Wooldridge, who told The New York Times that she had died in her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan, New York after suffering deteriorating health ever since undergoing open-heart surgery in 2007. No cause of death was officially given. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered. Lincoln is survived by her brothers, David and Kenneth Wooldridge, and her sister, Juanita Baker. Hentoff says Lincoln was a sometimes self-deprecating woman with a ready, sardonic wit, and says her death is a huge loss to a jazz community that doesn’t have musicians like her anymore.


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