Fresh Air Remembers Jazz Singer Abbey Lincoln

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hide captionIn this 2005 file photo, jazz singer Abbey Lincoln performs during a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert in New York City. The songwriter, actor and singer died Saturday at the age of 80.

Jeff Christensen/AP Photo
Abbey Lincoln

In this 2005 file photo, jazz singer Abbey Lincoln performs during a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert in New York City. The songwriter, actor and singer died Saturday at the age of 80.

Jeff Christensen/AP Photo

Portions of this interview were originally broadcast on March 25, 1986, and June 16, 1996.

Abbey Lincoln, the jazz singer who transformed herself from a supper-club singer into a powerful voice in the civil-rights movement, died Saturday. She was 80.

Lincoln started her career singing in nightclubs and dinner theaters in the early 1950s — first in Honolulu and later in Chicago and New York. While performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, she met drummer and bebop innovator Max Roach, who introduced her to modern jazz, and to a performing style influenced by the new black consciousness.

After Roach and Lincoln married in 1962, they recorded a series of albums together, where Lincoln was backed by jazz legends such as Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy. Her songs became less pop-based and began to reflect her growing involvement in the civil rights and black pride movements.

Lincoln sang the vocal tracks on Roach's album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, the now-famous civil-rights document. While recording throughout the '60s, she also took to Hollywood, starring in 1964's Nothing but a Man, about a young black couple in the South, and then co-starring in the 1968 romantic comedy For Love of Ivy opposite Sidney Poitier.

In 1972, Lincoln traveled to Africa after a 10-year hiatus from recording. There, she was given the name Aminata Moseka by the president of Guinea and Zaire's minister of information. She used the names Aminata Moseka alongside Abbey Lincoln to represent her African heritage. She also began to write stories.

In later years, she inspired a series of younger jazz singers, including Cassandra Wilson and Lizz Wright, who both cited Lincoln as an inspiration for their own careers. Eventually, Lincoln began recording again, releasing nine albums after reemerging in the 1990s. Her most recent record, Abbey Sings Abbey, was released in 2007 and featured a dozen songs about self-discovery.

Lincoln received the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. She is survived by her brother, David Wooldridge.

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