WUSF All Night Jazz Focus Artist of the Week: Abbey Lincoln

Photo: Jac. de Nijs,

This week on All Night Jazz, we’ll focus on singer, actress, activist and two-time Grammy Nominee, Abbey Lincoln. Anna Marie Wooldridge, later known as Abbey Lincoln, was born August 6, 1930, in Chicago. She was raised in rural Michigan but aspirations to become a singer sent her out west, including a stint as a cabaret singer in Hawaii.

Heavily influenced by Billie Holiday, who she met on numerous occasions, it was an L.A. based lyricist and manager who encouraged her to change her name, combining Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln to come up with the moniker she was known by.

In 1956 she released her first recording on the Riverside label and picked up her first of many acting spots as a singer backed up by Benny Golson in a Jayne Mansfield film “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

She had a moderately successful career as an actress appearing opposite Sidney Poitier as the title character in the film “For the Love of Ivy.” She also appeared in several television programs in the ‘60s and ‘70s such as “Mission Impossible” and others.

But it was her powerful and emotive voice along with her progressive politics in the ‘60s that set her apart. After meeting drummer and bebop pioneer Max Roach during one of her recording sessions, the two collaborated on the 1960 recording “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” an anthemic statement for civil rights.

The two married in 1962 but divorced in 1970. Lincoln semi-retired from singing only to make a strong comeback with 10 albums on the Verve label from 1990 until her passing at the age of 80 in 2014.

Lincoln received a National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Master Award in 2003.

In her N.Y. Times obituary, jazz critic and historian Nate Chinen noted, “Her singing style was unique, a combined result of bold projection and expressive restraint. Because of her ability to inhabit the emotional dimensions of a song, she was often likened to Billie Holiday, her chief influence. But Ms. Lincoln had a deeper register and a darker tone, and her way with phrasing was more declarative.”

We’ll hear the plaintive vocals of Abbey Lincoln all week long on All Night Jazz.