Abbey Lincoln, Singular Jazz Vocalist And Songwriter, Dies

Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln perform at the Jazz At Lincoln Centers Concert For Hurricane Relief at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 17, 2005 in New York City.
Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln perform at the Jazz At Lincoln Centers Concert For Hurricane Relief at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center on September 17, 2005 in New York City. Brad Barket/Getty Images

She was a jazz vocalist whose unique delivery coerced emotional heft out of the original lyrics she wrote. The New York Times reported this afternoon that she has died at age 80.

Abbey Lincoln, a jazz vocalist whose singular delivery coerced emotional heft out of the original lyrics she wrote, has died, The New York Times reported this afternoon. She was 80.

Lincoln grew up on a farm in Michigan (as Anna Marie Wooldridge), and the talent she cultivated led her to work as a pop singer and actress in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s. Eventually, she also met jazz musicians, who led her to chart a new artistic direction for her singing. Drummer Max Roach, whom Lincoln later married, was particularly influential; their early-1960s recorded collaborations like Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite and her Straight Ahead found her delivering sociopolitical statements, powerful, evocative screams and original songwriting.

In 1970, she and Roach divorced, and she moved to Los Angeles, far away from public spotlight. Lincoln had taken several film roles in the preceding decade, and had never stopped singing, but had not recorded music for nearly a decade. She recorded infrequently until 1989, when she started working with producer Jean-Philippe Allard. A string of albums on what is now the French division of Verve Music Group, made with top-tier jazz performers, restored her to wider acclaim.

Her late-career records also cemented her standing as both a singer and songwriter. In 1986, she told Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air that at a certain point in her career, she rejected performing songs which demeaned her. "I know that a song is a prayer, because you say -- it's something that I speak over and over, and it's with music," she said. "And it's amplified, and it goes into peoples' ears. And it'll manifest in my life, one way or another. So ... I am particular about the messages that come from me."

NPR is working on a full remembrance of Lincoln. We will update this page when that becomes available. In the meanwhile, visit NPR Music's Abbey Lincoln artist page for more archived interviews and features.

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