Jazz singer and actress, Abbey Lincoln, who evolved from a supper-club singer into a strong voice for civil rights, has died. Lincoln was 80.
Lincoln died Saturday in a nursing home in New York. No cause was given, but she had been in failing health.
Lincoln built a career as an actress and singer in the late 1950s through the turbulent 1960s, then stepped away during the 1970s and, years later, returned to prominence as a singer praised for her songwriting abilities.
During her career, Lincoln was often compared to Billie Holiday, one of her early influences. Times jazz writer Leonard Feather, writing after a Lincoln performance in 1986, said he could see glimpses of Holiday. “Not so much vocally as visually – a slight toss of the head, a jutting of the jaw,” he wrote. “As Lincoln said, ‘We all stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us.’ ”
She moved to California in 1951 and performed in local clubs, then spent two years in Honolulu under the name Gaby Lee before coming back to Los Angeles. And she became Abbey Lincoln, inspired by Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln. Her manager, songwriter Bob Russell, thought of the name.
Lincoln had a role in the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It” in which she wore a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. The appearance, coupled with her first album, “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love,” gave her a glamorous image. That changed when she started working with jazz drummer Max Roach, whose music would reflect the coming civil rights struggle. They married in 1962.
“I started out being a sexy young thing in a Marilyn Monroe dress,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2000, “And Max Roach freed me from that.”
With Ivan Dixon, she co-starred in the 1964 indie cult classic, “Nothing But a Man,” written and directed by Michael Roemer. She also co-starred with Sidney Poitier and Beau Bridges in 1968’s “For Love of Ivy,” and received a 1969 Golden Globe nomination for her appearance in the film.
Lincoln “was a really gifted person and a truly wonderful actress. She was the kind of person you expected to live forever,” Poitier told the Times Saturday.
“She was gifted in so many ways. She was quite productive and it was quite rewarding for those of us who heard her sing and watched her act.”
In 1990, she played the role of young Bleek Gilliams’ mother in the Spike Lee movie “Mo’ Better Blues” who was very insistent that Bleek, played as an adult by Denzel Washington, come inside their house and practice his trumpet instead of playing outside with his friends.
In 2003, she received the National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Award.