Abbey Lincoln's story is on Jazz Profiles, March 27 at 5 p.m. on WMOT Jazz-89.
To many critics and fans, Abbey Lincoln is the heir to Billie Holiday's musical legacy. She shares Holiday's ability to take liberties with time and with the shape of a melody, and she has the ability to inject the same world-weary timbre into her voice, especially when singing her own politically charged lyrics.
But singing her own songs about the human condition, social and racial problems, and the dilemma of bringing up children into today's world, Lincoln comes into her own, and she can inject more power, passion, anger and pain into her performances than any other singer currently active on the international jazz scene.
She began singing and acting under a variety of names - but after settling on Abbey Lincoln in the mid-1950s, she began to make her mark as a highly individual and talented singer. Her discs from the 1950s and 60s (for part of which she was married to drummer Max Roach and involved in his political and musical activities) are a roll-call of the jazz scene of the time, with elder statesmen like Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk rubbing shoulders with young tigers like Eric Dolphy.
She had a fruitful musical collaboration with Bille Holiday's former accompanist Mal Waldron, both in performance, on record and as songwriters. In her more recent discs, she has maintained a cross-generational team of accompanists, with, for example, veteran vibes-player Bobby Hutcherson teamed alongside young trumpeter Nicholas Payton on her 1998 disc Wholly Earth.
Lincoln has a completely original way of delivering a lyric, often chopping up a stanza into short bursts, or parts of a line, and stressing syllables that make more musical than literary sense, but she never loses her ability to pack an emotional punch in her singing. She has also been a successful film actress, and is accomplished in many of the other arts.