Sunday, August 15, 2010

Abbey Lincoln 1930-2010

It's a beautiful day in Minneapolis. The summer heat has broken, the humidity has dropped, gardens are green and blooming, and windows everywhere are open to cool breezes. And I'm sad about Abbey Lincoln's passing.

My friend Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of KFAI radio, always featured her music on her program around Lincoln's birthday (August 6) and it was because of her that I started listening more closely. I felt as if I was hearing someone sing the truth. No ornaments, no excess, no trendiness, no need to cross over to find a bigger audience, just clarity and message and integrity. Janis saw her live several times; I'm sorry I never did.

On Wednesday, only a few days before Lincoln died, singer Nancy Harms came to dinner, and we sat around the table until past midnight, talking and listening to music. Toward the end of the evening we found our way to Abbey Lincoln, "The Music Is the Magic," which appears on two of her CDs: Devil's Got Your Tongue (1992), where she sings it with the Staple Singers, and Abbey Sings Abbey (2007), where she sings alone, a stripped-down version. On the latter recording, released soon after she underwent open heart surgery, her voice is not as supple or lush as it was 15 years earlier but the lyrics seem more profound: "The music is the magic of a secret world/It's a world that is always within/The music is the magic and the hiding place/It's a place where the spirit is home/The music is the magic through the raging storm/The storm that is over again."

Nate Chinen's obituary in the New York Times
Matt Schudel for the Washington Post

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