NPR logo Abbey Lincoln, Singular Jazz Vocalist And Songwriter, Dies

Music Articles

Abbey Lincoln, Singular Jazz Vocalist And Songwriter, Dies

Abbey Lincoln, photographed for her 2007 album Abbey Sings Abbey. Jean-Marc Lubrano hide caption

toggle caption
Jean-Marc Lubrano

Abbey Lincoln, photographed for her 2007 album Abbey Sings Abbey.

Jean-Marc Lubrano

Abbey Lincoln, a jazz vocalist whose singular delivery coerced emotional heft out of the original lyrics she wrote, has died, The New York Times reported this afternoon. She was 80.

UPDATE: NPR's Allison Keyes has filed this remembrance on Weekend Edition.

Lincoln grew up on a farm in Michigan (as Anna Marie Wooldridge), and the talent she cultivated led her to work as a pop singer and actress in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. Eventually, she also met jazz musicians, who led her to chart a new artistic direction for her singing. Drummer Max Roach, whom Lincoln later married, was particularly influential; their early-1960s recorded collaborations like Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite and her Straight Ahead found her delivering sociopolitical statements, powerful, evocative screams and original songwriting.

In 1970, she and Roach divorced, and she moved to Los Angeles, far away from public spotlight. Lincoln had taken several film roles in the preceding decade, and had never stopped singing, but had not recorded music for nearly a decade. She recorded infrequently until 1989, when she started working with producer Jean-Philippe Allard. A string of albums on what is now the French division of Verve Music Group, made with top-tier jazz performers, restored her to wider acclaim.

Article continues after sponsorship

Her late-career records also cemented her standing as both a singer and songwriter. In 1986, she told Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air that at a certain point in her career, she rejected performing songs which demeaned her. "I know that a song is a prayer, because you say — it's something that I speak over and over, and it's with music," she said. "And it's amplified, and it goes into peoples' ears. And it'll manifest in my life, one way or another. So ... I am particular about the messages that come from me."

Please visit NPR Music's Abbey Lincoln artist page for more archived interviews and features. Also, the family has requested that donations in Ms. Lincoln's honor be made to the Jazz Foundation of America, which is also planning a memorial service at a date TBA.