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Let Us Remember A Legend of Music and Film . . . Abbey Lincoln (August 6, 1930 – August 14, 2010)

by Emmanuel Akitobi
August 14, 2011 1:15 AM
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I told myself that I wouldn't let the 1-year anniversary of Abbey Lincoln's death pass without me saying a few words about it. So when I fell ill this past Friday morning and ended up in the ICU of D.C.'s Sibley Memorial Hospital, I was understandably miffed. Well, thank goodness for laptops and free hospital Wi-Fi.

Abbey Lincoln was, to me, one hell of a woman. She was the epitome of "real", way before keeping it real started going wrong. She was --for lack of a better term-- "one classy broad."

I was first introduced to the work of Ms. Lincoln in 2004, when I watched a DVD copy of For Love of Ivy (1968). I was at work on a Saturday night (yes, I watched DVDs at work) and I was in the mood for something good. I'd never heard of the film prior to that year, and I think I bought the DVD mainly because the debonair Sidney Poitier was on the cover, embracing a beautiful black woman. I read the synopsis and learned that it centered on a single black man and woman who are set up on a date by the woman's white employers. I won't give too much else away, as not to spoil it for those who haven't yet seen it. But it seemed like my kind of film. I mean, black love on the big screen, in the sixties-- who knew?

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and got to work on finding out who this Abbey Lincoln was.

I Googled her name, and the first thing that popped up at the time was "jazz legend Abbey Lincoln." By 2004, I had not yet learned to appreciate jazz music the way I do now. All I was interested in finding out was what other films she had starred in.

Prior to her titular turn in For Love of Ivy, Ms. Lincoln had a brief singing cameo in 1959's The Girl Can't Help It, in which she sported an evening dress made famous six years earlier by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

In 1964, Lincoln starred opposite actor/director Ivan Dixon (Hogan's Heroes, The Spook Who Sat By The Door) in the groundbreaking Nothing But A Man.

And in one of her last screen appearances, Abbey Lincoln was seen playing Lillian, the mother of young Bleek Gilliam in 1990's Mo' Better Blues.

Ms. Lincoln was not just known for her work in entertainment, but also for her impact on black popular culture. Lincoln was one of the first black actresses to tackle the then very controversial issue of black female images in film. In October 1968, Lincoln gave the following interview to Ebony magazine, which you can read HERE.

Check out this video of Lincoln from the rarely seen The Music Is The Magic:

No disrespect, but like I said before, that Abbey Lincoln was "one classy broad." Let's remember her, shall we?

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  • urbanauteur | August 16, 2011 4:02 AMReply

    This woman was the epitome of Class! , i loved her freedom song also.

  • CareyCarey | August 15, 2011 12:40 PMReply

    Thanks for posting this Emmanuel. One small post and I learned so much. Well, for one, I was in Atlanta visiting a friend when I decided to look for something to watch on a DVD. I couldn't find anything, but over in a corner I saw a stack of old VHS. I popped in "Nothing But A Man".

    Now, not until I read this post did I know that this woman name Abbey Lincoln was in both films ("nothing" and For Love Of Ivy). I mean, her performance stood out for me b/c I remember asking myself... "who is this woman" , but I didn't make the connection.

    And Emmanuel.... you're name... huuummm? Are you a book reviewer/novelist?

  • CareyCarey | August 15, 2011 12:20 PMReply

    "In terms of her music, I’d recommend “We Insist! – Freedom Now,” the 1960 album she recorded with her then husband, jazz legend, Max Roach and lyricist Oscar Brown. It’s a must-have for any lovers of jazz music and revolution :)"

    You're kidding me! I did not know that? I mean, I never associated the name of the actress with the name of Max Roach's wife. If I am not mistaken, didn't you [Tambay]post a video of them?

  • Emmanuel | August 15, 2011 5:00 AMReply


    I'm not a book reviewer or novelist; just a film enthusiast who loves to share info with folks. I glad you enjoyed the post.

    With regard to her jazz career, if I had to choose my favorite Abbey Lincoln song, it would have to be "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" from the album "Abbey Is Blue". "Beautifully tragic" is the best way I can describe it.

  • James Madison | August 15, 2011 1:45 AMReply


  • befree1619 | August 15, 2011 1:32 AMReply

    Awe..sad news. I adore For the Love of Ivy. I can watch it over and over. May she rest in peace.

  • ShebaBaby | August 14, 2011 8:50 AMReply

    Oh and p.s. Tambay that love scene was da bomb!

  • ShebaBaby | August 14, 2011 8:49 AMReply

    I LOVVEEE this movie and everything Abbey did. I was so sad when she passed last year and it was crazy because the night before I had just introduced someone to her work. We watched "Nothing But a Man" and then the documentary bio of her life that was extra on the DVD.

    I don't think a lot of folks know that the reason she wore a wig the entire movie for "For Love of Ivy" is that she went natural and didn't want to straighten her hair. I would totally love to write the script for her life story. She is definitely one of my sheros.

  • tambay | August 14, 2011 1:48 AMReply

    "For Love Of Ivy" is one of my favorite Poitier films. I remember seeing it as a kid and not at all realizing how much of an accomplishment it was at the time it was made, given how limited portrayals of African Americans in film were at the time.

    There's actually a sex scene in the film - that's right, a love scene between a black man and a black woman on film, on screen - in 1968! It's not *graphic* like say those in "She's Gotta Have It" almost 20 years later, but it's *classy* as you'd expect from Poitier, and it plays well.

    In terms of her music, I'd recommend "We Insist! – Freedom Now," the 1960 album she recorded with her then husband, jazz legend, Max Roach and lyricist Oscar Brown. It’s a must-have for any lovers of jazz music and revolution :)

    Thanks for the memories Emmanuel.

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