Jazz singer, actress, and Civil Rights icon Abbey Lincoln died Saturday in Manhattan. She was 80. In tribute we asked resident Voice jazz critic Francis Davis to say a few words: His thoughts are below.
Much could be written about Abbey Lincoln and no doubt will be: about her metamorphosis from 1950s sepia starlet to ’60s protest singer and the price she paid for it, about how wounding both her voice and her lyrics could be, about how those lyrics were clearly autobiographical but always held too much in reserve to be dismissed as tritely confessional, about her commanding stage presence and the sadness one sensed talking with her offstage, on those rare occasions when she let down her guard. But in a way, she provided her own best epitaph with these stanzas taking measure of her life from her song “Being Me,” which she first recorded on 1995’s A Turtle’s Dream and reprised as the final number on Abbey Sings Abbey, the 2007 album that proved to be her last:
It wasn’t always easy, learning to be me
Sometimes my head and heart would disagree
Times I walked away
Other times I’d stay
To see the drama of my life, the play …
Being me I laugh seeing now and then
So many things have changed and yet somehow
There will always be a stage, a song for me
Hold the curtain open, it’s time to take a bow
What I had to say about her in my review of Abbey Sings Abbey, fearful that I was writing an advance obituary, pales in comparison. But that review will have to suffice, because the grief I feel at her passing puts me at a loss for anything more to say.