Anna Marie Wooldridge, better known by her stage name Abbey Lincoln, was a popular American jazz singer and songwriter. Famous for her avant-garde music, she wrote and performed her own compositions. Born in an era when the American society was marred by widespread racism and sexism, she struggled hard as a black woman to build a successful musical career for herself. An independent spirit, she not only successfully carved a niche for herself in the musical industry but also inspired generations of black women to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights. Well established in the show business as a talented and glamorous figure by the 1960s, she put her fame to good use by becoming active in the civil rights movement as well. 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. In addition to her musical career, she ventured into acting as well and appeared in movies such as ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes.’ She explored more philosophical themes during the later years of her songwriting career and remained professionally active until well into her seventies.
- She was born as Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois, US into a large family. She was the 10th of the 12 children born to her parents.Raised in a farm in Michigan, she was exposed to music quite early on in life and loved listening to it constantly. She became a part of the school and church choirs as well.At the age of 14, she began to sing with local bands. By this time she had also started to write her own lyrics.Career
- By the early 1950s she had begun singing professionally. Early in her career she sang under various stage-names including Gaby Lee before settling on the name Abbey Lincoln in 1956.In the mid-1950s she became acquainted with the saxophonist Benny Carter and made a recording with his band. The year 1956 witnessed Abbey recording her first album, ‘Abbey Lincoln Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love’ for Riverside Records.The following year, she moved to New York City and worked at the Village Vanguard. It was during her performance at the Village Vanguard that Abbey met drummer, composer and bebop innovator Max Roach who introduced her to New York’s jazz elite.In the 1950s she also ventured into acting and made an appearance in the musical comedy film ‘The Girl Can't Help It.’ She appeared as herself, wearing a dress that had been worn by Marilyn Monroe in ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ (1953), drawing comparisons between herself and the sex symbol.On the musical front, Abbey and Roach collaborated throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Together with Charles Mingus, Oscar Brown and John Coltrane, Abbey and Roach were in the middle of the civil rights movement.In 1960, Abbey Lincoln sang in Roach's masterpiece, ‘We Insist! (Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite). Her lyrics for the same were connected to the civil rights movement in America. This was a major makeover from her glamorous avatar right into a radical one, with her dressing up in a complete Afro-style and infusing her music with a political edge.Her acting career also flourished during the 1960s. In 1964, she co-starred in ‘Nothing But a Man’ with Ivan Dixon. It was an independent film written and directed by Michael Roemer.She shared the screen space with Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges in the 1968 romantic comedy film ‘For Love of Ivy.’ The film was loved equally by both the black and the white audiences and her role of Ivy Moore especially was much appreciated. She also received a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for the film.In the 1960s Abbey Lincoln started appearing on television as well. She made an appearance in the television series ‘The Name of the Game’ in 1968. The following year she appeared in one of the episodes of the series of individual dramas written, produced and performed by blacks, ‘On Being Black,’ aired by WGBH-TV Boston.Starting from the 1960s, she also became active in the civil rights movement and earned a reputation as a black icon and civil rights advocate. She continued her showbiz career as well and appeared in the movie ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1971), the telemovie ‘Short Walk to Daylight’ (1972), television series ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’ (1974), and sitcom ‘All in the Family’ (1978).Even though she continued to be active on the musical front as well, her output considerably decreased during the 1980s. ‘Painted Lady’ (1980), ‘Talking to the Sun’ (1983), and ‘Abbey Sings Billie, Vol. 1 & 2’ (1987) were some of her musical works of this period.The 1990s marked a more prolific period for the talented star. In 1990 she released ‘The World Is Falling Down’ followed by ‘You Gotta Pay the Band’ in 1991. Her other works of this period include ‘The Music Is the Magic’ (1993), ‘A Turtle’s Dream’ (1994), and ‘Wholly Earth’ (1998).Despite her advancing age, she remained quite active even during the 2000s, releasing works such as ‘Over the Years’ (2000), ‘It’s Me’ (2002), and ‘Abbey Sings Abbey’ (2007).Major Works
- One of the best known collaborations between Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach was the landmark civil rights-themed recording ‘We Insist!’ (Subtitled Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite) which was released in 1960. With this album, Roach became one of the first artists to use jazz as a way of addressing racial and political issues during the 1960s. Following the release of the album, Lincoln became more actively involved in the civil rights movement.Awards & Achievements
- Abbey Lincoln received the 1969 Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture for her appearance in the film, ‘For Love of Ivy.’In 2003, she received a National endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.Personal Life & Legacy
- Abbey Lincoln married her longtime collaborator Max Roach in 1962. The marriage ended in 1970.She lived a long life and was professionally active until a few years before her death. She died on August 14, 2010, in Manhattan after suffering from ill health during the last years of her life.
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