EXPIRED: 08/14/10 – Abbey Lincoln, 80, moved to California in 1951 and then to Honolulu where she performed in small and smoky jazz clubs as Gaby Lee. When she returned to Los Angeles her manager thought she needed a new name, a gimmick to grab some attention.
He christened her Abbey Lincoln, a cross between the majesty of Westminster Abbey and the relevance of Abraham Lincoln to her audience.
It worked. Lincoln got noticed and she started a career as an actress and singer that lasted from the late 1950s till she had a change of heart in the late 60s.
Lincoln’s role in the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It” – the one in which she wore a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe – paired with the smooth sounds of her first recordings, “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love,” painted a glitzy, Hollywood picture. She also starred in “Nothing But a Man” with Ivan Dixon, and “For Love of Ivy” alongside Beau Bridges and Sidney Poitier.
But she was quick to discard all that glamour when she met and married jazz drummer extraordinaire Max Roach. The two embraced and embodied the civil rights struggle, and Lincoln in particular dressed the part, wearing typical African clothing to emphasize her roots.
Shedding her image practically ruined her career.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times she was quoted as saying, “I started out being a sexy young thing in a Marilyn Monroe dress and Max Roach freed me from that.”
She returned to singing and songwriting in the 80’s and even found her way back to movies, playing a significant part in the Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues” in 1990.
In 2003, Lincoln received the National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Award.
The girl couldn’t help it.