All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Interviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

726

Abbey Lincoln: African Queen in a Top Hat

Joan Gannij By

Sign in to view read count
She shakes her head, then continues: "I didn't plan any of this. My life is really a happening. I didn't ask my mother for a piano when we moved, but she got one for me. The others didn't play cause they didn't want to. They left me alone, they didn't tell me when to stop or to start. I never planned my life or planned to do anything. When I was a younger woman I dreamed of meeting a man. I never knew I would have this career. I guess I was made to do this. It's not for money. It's for the sake of my spirit. I can say that I've been fortunate all my life. There's always been somebody who has helped me, who said: 'What do you want to do, Abbey'?"

Lincoln set off for Honolulu when she was 22, where she would stay for two years, singing in nightclubs and meeting up with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, whose singular approach to singing would eventually reflect in her own unique song renderings. She then headed west to Los Angeles where she crossed paths with Bob Russell, "the great lyricist who named me Abbey Lincoln," in dual homage to Westminster Abbey and the 16th President who brought an end to slavery. She also met Eddie Beale, a coach who she says, "took away all of the habits I learned from listening to other singers like Ella and Billie. He told me: 'I don't want you to sing it as it's written on the paper and don't make a variation unless you feel it.' Billie, Sarah, Dinah and Ella did that. Bob Russell taught me what a great song was. He said: 'It's a story that hopefully not covered by anyone else; succinct and to the point. It's an original story, a thought that hasn't been explored by another writer.'"

In 1956, she made her first record, Affair...a Story of a Girl in Love (Liberty) and soon appeared in her first film which was a vehicle for Jayne Mansfield, The Girl Can't Help It. Her second album, That's Him was released in 1957 (Riverside) and included Sonny Rollins on tenor sax and the bebop drummer Max Roach, who was also a vocal civil rights activist. They began a musical partnership of sorts with We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite (Candid), on which Lincoln signified Oscar Brown Jr.'s searing lyrics. This would be considered an early masterwork and was the beginning of Lincoln's detour into radical terrain and vocalizations that included howling, moaning, shrieking and the occasional screech. A year later, Lincoln wrote her own lyrics to a song called "Retribution" that had some well-known reviewer dismiss her with a racist jibe as being "a professional Negro."

When efforts continued to focus on establishing her as a potential pinup image, she eventually told a clique of career-building sycophants "to all go to hell." It started with a very low-cut dress that had once been worn by Marilyn Monroe. She bristles at the memory and says: "When I was hangin' with Roach he finally said, "I don't like that dress. So it went into the incinerator. They were expecting me to be a big popular star but I didn't come to California to make a spectacle of myself and to be sexy with my titties shaking. So I fired everybody, and told them I'm not a jazz singer, and someone said: "Well, you're black, aren't you?"

She married Max Roach in 1962, and says: "Living with Roach, I learned a lot about an approach to music. Like my mother and father, we were more than musicians. I'd been writing lyrics and Roach wrote the melody and gave me credit for it, ("Abbey is Blue," on the Reversible recording). In these evolutionary times, she was not only confronting racism head on, but also being confronted with what she calls "a male chauvinist society." "Everybody always treated me like I was somebody, and suddenly it was Abbey takes a husband, not Roach takes a wife. He didn't form me or discover me, I already was a cover girl, in the movies, and I already had a recording. But that's the way it is in this work sometimes, and that's life. People resent you or just don't like you. Jon Hendrix did an interview saying if it wasn't for Roach I wouldn't have made it."

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Interviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Interviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Profiles
CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Abbey Sings Abbey

Abbey Sings Abbey

Verve Music Group
2007

buy
 

Naturally

Enja Records
2005

buy
Abbey Is Blue

Abbey Is Blue

Fantasy Jazz
2005

buy
It's Me

It's Me

Verve Music Group
2003

buy

Related Articles

Read Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox Interviews
Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 24, 2018
Read Linley Hamilton: Strings Attached Interviews
Linley Hamilton: Strings Attached
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 17, 2018
Read Camille Bertault: Unity in Diversity Interviews
Camille Bertault: Unity in Diversity
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: April 10, 2018
Read Chad Taylor: Myths and Music Education Interviews
Chad Taylor: Myths and Music Education
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: April 9, 2018
Read Fabian Almazan: Multilayered Vision Interviews
Fabian Almazan: Multilayered Vision
by Angelo Leonardi
Published: March 30, 2018
Read Ryuichi Sakamoto: Naturally Born to Seek Diversity Interviews
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Naturally Born to Seek Diversity
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: March 27, 2018
Read "Paula Shocron: Paths to a New Sound" Interviews Paula Shocron: Paths to a New Sound
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: February 19, 2018
Read "Helle Henning: Nordic Sounds" Interviews Helle Henning: Nordic Sounds
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: February 14, 2018
Read "Thomas Strønen: Sense of Time" Interviews Thomas Strønen: Sense of Time
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: February 6, 2018
Read "Chad Taylor: Myths and Music Education" Interviews Chad Taylor: Myths and Music Education
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: April 9, 2018
Read "Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox" Interviews Nik Bärtsch: Possibility in Paradox
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 24, 2018
Read "Abby Lee: Born to Sing" Interviews Abby Lee: Born to Sing
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 28, 2018