When Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010) died, a lot of people were surprised to find out she was actually 80 years old.  The reason for this of course is that most of her best loved, best selling albums came out during the 1990’s, and she was maybe looked upon as a jazz singer of the newer generation, and a contemporary of Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall. Her reputation as one of the great jazz ladies largely rests upon these records. She has also been called a protest singer by some, and she does deal with topics in some of her lyrics that might be looked upon as written by a protest singer. But to me it has a lot more to do with how she sings, the protest is lodged in her voice, and vocally she is every bit as much a soul singer as she is a jazz singer. You get the feeling that she has personal knowledge of everything she sings, and that every emotion she vocally transmits comes from her own experiences.

Like most Afro-American girls, little Anna Marie Wooldridge started out singing gospel in her local church. At the age of 22, she took the stage name Gaby Lee and worked in bars and night clubs around Hollywood and in Honolulu. After doing this for 4 years, she was spotted by a talent agent who gave her the new name of Abbey Lincoln, and also a recording contract. Her image at this point was that of a sexy, slinky night club chanteuse with all the trimmings; diamonds, tight dresses showing off a lot of cleavage, high heels, mink stoles etc.

Abbey in the late 50’s
 Her first album “Affair… A Story of a Girl in Love” came out 1956. The sexy cover might suggest that here was a singer in the mould of Eartha Kitt, purring through romantic ballads. So not, as Abbey even at this point had found her true voice – devoid of kittenish sexiness – and diving into the material in full voice, doing great versions of “The masquerade is over” and “This can’t be love” among others. She also made her first movie, guesting as a singer in the Jayne Mansfield movie “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Abbey performs the song “Spread the word, spread the gospel” wearing a sexy dress that had been used earlier by Marilyn Monroe! Part of the story is that sometime later, Abbey actually burned that dress to finally kill her image as a sexy night club singer!
During the next three years, she made three more albums similar to her debut album; “That’s Him” (1957), “It’s Magic” (1958) and “Abbey Is Blue” (1959). They have all been re-released on CD and can be downloaded from iTunes also.  Put together, these four albums give you the formative years of Abbey, and shows off a soulful singer doing jazzy versions of songs mostly from The Great American Songbook. But it does not in any way prepare you for what came next!
Working with drummer Max Roach (whom she married in 1962), she was the featured vocalist on their landmark 1960 album “We Insist – Freedom Now Suite”. The album consists of 5 long songs, and for the first time it shows that new Abbey-image. No longer cute & sexy, this singer is now a vocal warrior and a civil rights advocate. Her vocals on tracks like “Driva man” and “Prayer/Protest/Peace” proves that this girl means every word she sings, and she’s a force to be reckoned with! 1961 saw the release of another great album, “Straight Ahead” which is regarded as a classic, and I strongly suggest you check it out. Among the stand out tracks are “When Malindy Sings”, “African Lady” and “In the red”.
After this, Abbey took a very long break from recording, although she was still performing live. She starred in the 1968 movie “For the love of Ivy” with Sidney Poitier, playing the title role and receiving a Golden Globe nomination for it.
During the 70’s and 80’s she made only 4 albums, starting with the 1973 “People In Me”, and then she made her wonderful tribute to Lady Day, “Abbey Sings Billie” in 1987. After another 3 years away from the studios, she signed with Verve and made her first album (“The World Is Falling Down”) on that label in 1990.
From 1990 until 2007, Abbey made ten studio albums for Verve and one live album:
  • 1990: The World Is Falling Down
  • 1991: You Gotta Pay the Band
  • 1992: Devil’s Got Your Tongue
  • 1992: When There is Love
  • 1993: The Music is the Magic
  • 1994: A Turtle’s Dream
  • 1996: Who Used to Dance
  • 1998: Wholly Earth
  • 2000: Over the Years
  • 2003: It’s Me
  • 2007: Abbey Sings Abbey

Each and everyone of these albums is highly recommended, they are all good. All of them show off Abbey in good voice, doing great material, surrounded by very talented musicians – so just get them!! 

 Abbey endured open-hearted surgery in 2007, and for the next years her health deteriorated badly, and she was in a Manhattan nursing home at the time of her death in August 2010, twelve days after her 80th birthday.
Abbey once said: “when people leave this Earth, they spread their wings of miracles in a blaze of light and disappear…”
Musically, Abbey spread miracles and light through everything she did with her wonderful voice during her more than 50 years of singing…. and I often put some of those vocal miracles into my CD player.

Abbey on stage, ca. 1998