Abbey Lincoln Through The Years…

Abbey Lincoln performs the gospel raveup ‘Spread The Word’ in the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield and Tom Ewell, with the title song sung by Little Richard. Her red dress had previously been worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In the early ‘60s, after meeting Max Roach, she burned the dress.

‘You Came A Long Way From St. Louis,’ Abbey Lincoln on The Steve Allen Show, 1957

Abbey Lincoln, ‘First Song,’ from the David Sanborn-hosted TV show, Night Music

Abbey Lincoln recites ‘The Man Who Has the Magic’ and ‘Where Are the African Gods?’ The interviewer is La-Verne Cody Gittens, producer of LINK, Everyday Dramas In the Lives of African Americans.

Abbey Lincoln, ‘People In Me,’ a song celebrating multiculturalism; video directed and edited by Abdul Malik Abbott

Abbey Lincoln, in concert


And In Her Own Words

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On Max Roach’s influence on her art and life:
"Max taught me to invest all my creative effort into everything I approach in life, not only the music. Many of the things I learned from him continue to serve me today, especially the technique of always practicing, even when you are away from your instrument.

“Max and the great musicians he introduced me to knew everything about theory. He introduced me to the cycle of fifths in B-flat. What I love about this music is the promise of individuality. Variations on a theme. If you can get past the idea of jazz,”

On her education as a vocalist:
"I preferred to sing alone—to be the centerpiece. The living room piano was my private space, once I discovered that singing could win me attention and admiration." She sang in school and church choirs, often as a soloist. Her musical approach, however, was mainly influenced by recordings of singers her father borrowed from neighbors: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne. "I was particularly impressed with Lena Horne; for a while I totally emulated her style and voice. Then I had the opportunity to see Lena perform. It was then that I knew I no longer wanted to be like Lena, 'cause her message was so loud and clear to be yourself."

Image vs. Reality: Lincoln on Hollywood’s attempt to mold her as a sex kitten in the 1950s:
“They wanted to make me a glamour type when I first got to Hollywood. I got in this movie, The Girl Can’t Help It. I sang something called ‘Spread the Word.’ No, nothing happened with that. They weren’t interested in what I was singing. They were just interested in me wearing that Marilyn Monroe dress. The one she wore in Gentleman Prefer Blondes. [Max] Roach saved me from all that.

“But before that I’d wear this dress, it was orange chiffon and my breasts would be bouncing around. It actually had cotton in the bra. That’s all they were interested in: me wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress. They were creating some rep for me as some breasty sexy woman. But I wasn’t never really that. I can’t stand some man looking at me and just thinking about sex.”

On her childhood:
Born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago on August 6, 1930, the girl who became Abbey Lincoln was one of 12 children in the Wooldrige household.  To their children her parents emphasized:  “Learn how to do something! To go and do something—before we got underprivileged or ghettoized!”

“I grew up on a farm. My folks never told me about no storks. Never gave us no names to worship. If my mother had put a white man’s picture on the wall…” Even after her parents separated, her mother provided a continuity to the secular clarity of the values in the house: mainly, self-respect and self-reliance.

“We had an upright piano in that house. When I was four going on five I would sit in the front room, we called it. If I could sing a tune I could finally play it. No one ever told me to ‘Stop playing,’ it was getting on their nerves or anything. No one told me to ‘Play’ either.

“We slept, all 12 of us, on the floor, on pallets. Yet [my parents] produced children who became something. My brother Robert is a judge. My brother Alexander was the first black tool-and-die maker in California. My youngest brother is a VIP at Motorola. There’s about 150 of us now—children, grandchildren.”

Women in Music? Women in Music!
“Best thing I ever did for myself is practice the arts. I was a singer, a painter, actress, a playwright, a composer. I wrote a thesis on Africa and Egypt. I’m tired of them talking about ‘women in the music’ like it’s new. Women always been in this music. But the men have been at the front of it. The men have a hard time keeping a standard that individual. If the work is to be seen it has to be original. Otherwise you can kick his booty butt off the stage.”

On Abbey Lincoln:
“I haven’t changed, I’m just better at expressing myself. When I listen to the early things. I write songs about my life. It’s not an unhappy life. Because I run my mouth. You know. Express myself: Straight ahead! “Straight ahead the road keeps winding…”

For The Love of Ivy (1968)

Ivy Moore (Abbey Lincoln), housekeeper to a white family, the Austins (whose patriarch, Frank Austin, is played by Carroll O’Connor), is weary of domestic service and longs to return to school. As Ivy prepares for her new life, one of the Austin children, Tim (played by Beau Bridges), tries to play matchmaker—and in the process keep her around—by introducing Ivy to Jack Parks, a handsome, eligible bachelor, portrayed by Sidney Poitier.

For Love of Ivy, a 1968 romantic comedy, was directed by Daniel Mann. The film stars Sidney Poitier, Abbey Lincoln, Beau Bridges, Nan Martin, Lauri Peters and Carroll O'Connor. The musical score was composed by Quincy Jones.

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