Childhood & Early Life
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.
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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.
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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).