She acted opposite Sidney Poitier, spoke out for civil rights, and had a singing voice so full of emotion and passion it reminded some of Billie Holiday. Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln died on Saturday at her Manhattan home at age 80. Lincoln, an idiosyncratic and fiercely independent performer, influenced a generation of younger vocalists, including singer Cassandra Wilson, who told The New York Times, “I learned a lot about taking a different path from Abbey,” she said. “Investing your lyrics with what your life is about in the moment.”
Lincoln was born as Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930. Her stage name was suggested by fellow musician Bob Russell in the ’50s as a fusion of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln recorded her first album, “Affair…A Story of a Girl in Love” in 1956 and that same year appeared in the classic Jayne Mansfield movie comedy The Girl Can’t Help It, directed by Frank Tashlin. Lincoln also lent her voice to Max Roach’s politically incendiary 1960 album: “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”. Shortly after the collaboration, she married Roach.
Soon after, she starred in the seminal 1964 African-American movie drama Nothing But a Man, and in 1968, she shared the screen with Poitier in the romantic comedy For Love of Ivy. In the ’80s, Lincoln took up singing full time again and her voice was as strong – if not stronger – than ever, maybe because she’d lived and now had more to say. Her 2007 album “Abbey Sings Abbey” is considered a jazz classic. As is the woman it’s named after.