jazz great abbey lincoln dies at age 80

Abbey Lincoln - singer, writer, composer, actor, visual artist, activist - has died. She was 80 years old and lived on New York City's Upper West Side.

Abbey Lincoln was a unique force in music, and she used her music in the cause of freedom and justice.

At work, I often listen to music on Wolfgang's Vault, an archive of live music with both free and pay downloads, that pays royalties to artists. I often use the site as a way to check out music I don't own and otherwise would not hear.

Not long ago, I listened to the Max Roach quartet performing Roach's and Lincoln's "We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite" at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival. Lincoln and Roach, who is considered perhaps the greatest jazz drummer of all time, were married at the time. To use a cliche, the music gave me chills. I mean that literally.

(Wolfgang's Vault has tons of music from Newport - jazz, blues, folk and rock.)

Lincoln was a singer of extraordinary power and range. She was also a composer and songwriter, she painted and drew, and she starred in several movies, including "For the Love of Ivy," opposite Sidney Poitier. She was an amazing talent.

New York Times:
Ms. Lincoln’s career encompassed outspoken civil rights advocacy in the 1960s and fearless introspection in more recent years, and for a time in the 1960s she acted in films with Sidney Poitier.

Long recognized as one of jazz’s most arresting and uncompromising singers, Ms. Lincoln gained similar stature as a songwriter only over the last two decades. Her songs, rich in metaphor and philosophical reflection, provide the substance of “Abbey Sings Abbey,” an album released on Verve in 2007. As a body of work, the songs formed the basis of a three-concert retrospective presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2002.

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.

“Her utter individuality and intensely passionate delivery can leave an audience breathless with the tension of real drama,” Peter Watrous wrote in The New York Times in 1989. “A slight, curling phrase is laden with significance, and the tone of her voice can signify hidden welts of emotion.”

She had a profound influence on other jazz vocalists, not only as a singer and composer but also as a role model. “I learned a lot about taking a different path from Abbey,” the singer Cassandra Wilson said. “Investing your lyrics with what your life is about in the moment.”

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