Abbey Lincoln was born Anne Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930 in Chicago. The tenth of twelve children, she grew up on a farm outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her professional career began immediately after high school. Traveling west to Los Angeles, she found work right away on the supper club circuit where she began her transformation into glamour girl and sexy chanteuse, which culminated in her role at Moulin Rouge. There, she was given the name Gaby Lee. Soon after, lyricist Bob Russell, who became her manager for a time, suggested the name Abbey Lincoln. In 1956 she released her first LP, Affair ... a Story of a Girl in Love, and made her first film, The Girl Can't Help It, appearing in a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Up until that time, she accepted that women singers were packaged that way and she enjoyed being thought of as beautiful and desirable. However, Abbey Lincoln began another transformation in tandem with the growing civil rights movement.
Her voice remained her instrument, but the image developed for her no longer fit her calling. The content of her recordings began to change, and on the cover of her third album, It's Magic (Riverside, 1958), the seductive pose was dropped and her natural hair was shown. Recording in New York with Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Max Roach, she began to envision herself and the music in a new light, delving deeper into her craft while becoming more and more aligned with the civil rights movement. This trajectory culminated with We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, released on Candid Records in 1960. "Driva Man" and the "Protest" movement of "Triptych," were dramatic highpoints of the record, led by the material and Abbey Lincoln's impassioned and unconventional performance. In 1962, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach began a marriage that lasted 8 years.
Meanwhile, Abbey Lincoln's acting career thrived. In 1964 she co-starred with Ivan Dixon in the film Nothing But A Man, and in 1968 with Sidney Poitier in For Love Of Ivy . In the sixties, while appearing under others' leadership, she released just one album of her own, Straight Ahead (Candid, 1961), which featured more of her original lyrics. In the 1973, she recorded two albums in Japan, Live In Misty (Elec Records), and People In Me (Polygram), which showcased more of her original music in addition to her lyrics. Throughout the sixties and seventies she was a dedicated activist and performed regularly, often combining the two pursuits. In 1975, Abbey Lincoln was named again. Traveling to Africa with Miriam Makeba, she was given the name "Aminata" by the President of Guinea, and "Moseka" by the Minister of Information of Zaire. The seventies consisted of a lot personal study and writing which would inform much of the music that she was yet to write and record. She also made numerous stage and television appearances, including episodes of All In The Family and Mission Impossible, and Black Omnibus hosted by James Earl Jones, and worked briefly as an Assistant Professor at California State University at Northridge.
In the eighties, music came back to the fore as Abbey Lincoln returned to New York. She released Golden Lady (Inner City, 1980; or, Painted Lady on Blue Marge, ITM), Talking To The Sun (Enja, 1983), and Abbey Sings Billie, Vol. 1 & 2 (Enja, rec.1987). During this decade much of her personal growth became apparent, she honed her skills as a bandleader and these albums are made up of more of her original material. In 1990, at the age of 60, she embarked on her most fruitful period of musical output, releasing 10 albums for Verve between 1990 and 2007, starting with The World Is Falling Down (1990) and ending with her final album, the aptly titled, Abbey Sings Abbey . In 2002, Jazz At Lincoln Center celebrated Abbey Lincoln's music and career in a three-concert retrospective and in 2003 she was honored as a Jazz Master Fellow by the National Endowment of the Arts. Finally, her personal style was fully established and a lifetime of personal and artistic inquiry was realized. After several years of declining health, Abbey Lincoln died on August 14, 2010 at the age of 80.
From the guide to the The Abbey Lincoln Collection, 1949-2008, (Rutgers University Libraries. Institute of Jazz Studies)