Another legend passed last week. What I like about Abbey Lincoln’s music is that it is both personal and political. Recently, I had a raging conversation with my friends on facebook. We were all depressed about the state of black music. Particularly the bland and nihilistic Fordism that has captured hip hop and rap. It’s all music you say? Well that is true, but I happily argue that black music is especially different because in the past it provided an outlet for black people to express their political, social and economic discontent and call for action to overthrow the structures which entrenched their marginalization.
Ms. Lincoln had a long and varied career: lounge singer, composer, actress and activist. Importantly, she also served as a role model for many artistes who came after her. Her collaboration with Max Roach, her soon to be husband, on We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, was an important personal and professional watershed. Take a good look at that album cover! There is so much revisionism surrounding this album. The then reviews were awful. Now, I suppose with the comfort of time and distance, it is considered a ‘classic.’ It is one of the best protest albums ever compiled. It is also considered an important moment in jazz in its own right. Its themes and instrumentals are far from dated.
She was such a huge talent, and all I can wonder is where is my generation’s Abbey Lincoln?