The great jazz singer Abbey Lincoln died Saturday on New York's Upper West Side. She was 80. It was in Chicago, where she was born, that I first heard someone gush about her. Later, visiting Mahattan one hot summer to see a Byzantine exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stumbled upon a listing in the New York Times arts section: Live tonight! Abbey Lincoln at the Iridium jazz club (then a dank basement venue across from Lincoln Center.) I was with my mom, and we sat just a few tables from the tiny stage, where we could watch Lincoln feel and phrase the music. Ron Carter was on bass. It was so amazing, so memorable. Ever since, her songs stops me in my tracks for the words she chose - pensive, hopeful and bold. No wonder. She told National Public Radio in 1986 that "a song is a prayer ... that I speak over and over ... It's amplified, and it goes into peoples' ears, and it'll manifest in my life ... so I am particular about the messages that come from me."
Her prolific career included movie roles, and these favorite albums: Abbey Sings Billie (as in Holiday, a queen, Lincoln says in this interview) and Wholly Earth. The latter offers a bitingly sweet duet, "It's Supposed to Be Love." (Also on YouTube is a video compliation including "First Song.")
It's sobering to read in the NYTimes' obituary that she was derided in the 1960s for expressing Blacks' civil rights. Rest in Peace, Abbey Lincoln.