Anna Marie Wooldridge (August 6, 1930 – August 14, 2010), better known by her stage name Abbey Lincoln, was a jazz vocalist, songwriter, and actress. Lincoln was unusual in that she wrote and performed her own compositions, expanding the expectations of jazz audiences.
Born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930, in Chicago, Ill., Lincoln grew up in rural Michigan on a large farm with her 11 siblings. The family had a piano, and she developed an interest in music at an early age, when she began singing in school and church choirs.
As Lincoln's talent matured, she began learning to express the emotions behind the lyrics. She credits the recordings of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington with teaching her how to sing with conviction. To escape the harsh Michigan winters, Lincoln moved to California. At 22, she spent a year in Honolulu, singing at a nightclub under the name Gaby Lee. When she moved back to California, she met lyricist Bob Russell, who became her manager and renamed her Abbey Lincoln.
After several years out west, Lincoln left for Chicago. While her singing career was beginning to build, she landed a role singing in the film The Girl Can't Help It, wearing a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. But the glamorous life wasn't sitting well with Lincoln, and she fired Russell and moved on. In 1956, she recorded her first album, Abbey Lincoln's Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love. The following year, she moved to New York City and worked at the Village Vanguard, which at that time was an intimate supper club, perfect for aspiring artists.
Here's "This can't Be Love" from Abbey's debut 1956 LP "Affair."
While performing at the Village Vanguard, Lincoln met drummer, composer and bebop innovator Max Roach, whom she would later
marry. It was Roach who introduced her to New York City's jazz elite. He also played an important role in her development as a sociopolitical artist and activist. Lincoln and Roach began collaborating frequently during the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s. During this time, the civil-rights movement was on the rise, and they, along with Charles Mingus, Oscar Brown Jr., John Coltrane and other jazz musicians, were right in the thick of it. Lincoln, Roach, Brown and others performed at benefits and fundraising concerts for the NAACP, CORE and other civil-rights organizations. In 1960, they recorded Roach's masterpiece, We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.
In the mid-1960s, Abbey Lincoln starred in two more films, Nothing but a Man and For the Love of Ivy. At the end of the decade, she and Roach had divorced; Lincoln moved back to California and immersed herself in art. Even though she was experiencing some financial hardship during that time, singer Miriam Makeba offered her the chance to visit Africa.
In 1972, Lincoln traveled to Africa after a 10-year hiatus from recording. There, she was given the name Aminata Moseka by the president of Guinea and Zaire's minister of information. She used the names Aminata Moseka alongside Abbey Lincoln to represent her African heritage. She also began to write stories.
Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Lincoln recorded on small independent labels such as Inner City and Enja. Her career got a major boost in 1989, however, when French producer Jean-Philippe Allard invited her to record for Verve Records/France. In later years, she inspired a series of younger jazz singers, including Cassandra Wilson and Lizz Wright, who both cited Lincoln as an inspiration for their own careers.
When The World Is Falling Down was released in 1990, the record propelled Lincoln back to stardom. Since then, she made a string of stellar, philosophical albums that continued to bring her critical and commercial success, all the way through the release of her final record, 2007's Abbey Sings Abbey which featured a dozen songs about self-discovery. She also acted again for the first time in decades, with a small role in the 1990 Spike Lee film Mo' Better Blues.
In 2003 the National Endowment for the Arts presented her with its Jazz Masters Award, America's highest jazz honour.
She underwent open-heart surgery in 2007. Latterly she lived on Manhattan's Upper West Side, in an apartment filled with her own paintings and drawings. Abbey Lincoln died on August 14, 2010 in Manhattan at the age of 80. Her death was announced by her brother, David Wooldridge, who told the New York Times that Lincoln had died in her Manhattan nursing home after suffering deteriorating health for years. No cause of death was officially given. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered. (Info edited mainly from NPR Music)