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Abbey Lincoln, 1966
*Abbey Lincoln was born on this date in 1930. She was an Black singer, composer and actress.
Born Anna Marie Wooldridge she was the daughter of a handyman and grew up with 11 brothers and sisters in rural Calvin Center, Mich. She discovered music early, teaching herself piano and singing in music and school. In the early 1950s, she headed west in search of a singing career, spending two years as a nightclub attraction in Honolulu, where she met Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she worked with lyricist Bob Russell. It was at the suggestion of Russell, who had become her manager, that she took the name Abbey Lincoln, a symbolic conjoining of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln.
In 1956, she made her first album, “Affair, a Story of a Girl in Love” (Liberty), and appeared in her first film, the Jayne Mansfield vehicle “The Girl Can’t Help It.” Her image in both cases was decidedly glamorous. Her work with Max Roach began in 1957 with the album "That's Him." As a young woman, Lincoln made a splash not only because of her voice, but her physical beauty. Early album covers featured her in slinky dresses, and she appeared in a Jayne Mansfield movie wearing the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
But after falling under Roach's influence, Lincoln turned her back on that image, casting herself instead as a civil rights advocate, dressing in African-inspired clothing and hairstyles, and making music with a political tone. Her 1960 collaboration with Roach and Oscar Brown Jr., "We Insist! (Freedom Now Suite)," was a testament against racism.
Explaining her image makeover in 1993, Lincoln told The Associated Press, "This dress was more important than I was. People in the audience were looking at my exposed breasts and the shape of my body, and it didn't have nothing to do with the music."... It wasn't a dream of mine to be a star, so Max came along at the right time to help save me from myself. Otherwise, I would have become an alcoholic and unhappy." Also in the 1960s, she had several film roles, starring in the independent film "Nothing But a Man," a story about a Black railroad worker in the South in love with a preacher's daughter, and then opposite Sidney Poitier in "For Love of Ivy" in 1968.
Lincoln's career fell quiet in the 1970s and '80s, after her marriage to Roach ended, but she re-emerged in the 1990s and found new fame and acclaim. She released nine more albums, the last, "Abbey Sings Abbey," in 2007. Lincoln also acted again for the first time in decades, with a brief role in the Spike Lee film "Mo' Better Blues." In later years, she had chart-topping albums with "You Gotta Pay the Band," which she recorded with Stan Getz, and "Devil's Got Your Tongue," in which she rebuked some rappers, comics and filmmakers for profiting from the denigration of black culture. Abbey Lincoln, a jazz singer and songwriter known for her phrasing, emotion and uncompromising style, died in New York at age 80 on August 14, 2010.