I met Abbey Lincoln in the early 1970's in Watts and interviewed her for the Soul and Jazz Record Magazine in 1976. Here are some excerpts from that interview.
You may not recognize the name Aminada Moseka" but the moment you see those bright, brown eyes twinkling from beneathe a cluster of beaded braids; as soon as she smiles that warm, honest, pleasant way; as immediate as her words and meanings plunge the space between us with wisdom, that's when you're sure it's Abbey Lincoln. Grant you, in 1976 she had taken on a new name that meant Mother God of Love." She explained the name Aminada Moseka" was given to her by President Sekou Toure of Guinea, Africa. With her new name, she unveiled a new look, more Afro-centric but still as lovely as ever.
All of my life I have been striving to be a beautiful person and to be a beautiful woman. Pretty is one thing. Pretty, that word means to be crafty, cunning and sly." She told me.
When I inquired about her stunning African clothing she told me she not only designed it herself, but that she sewed it as well.
Necessity was truly the mother of invention... and the artistic approach, as I see it, is just that you bring love to whatever you do. Contrary to what some people have been taught, we've been taught that the artist sits and is reserved, rides in Cadillacs and doesn't have any problems. But the true artist, she paused, choosing her words carefully. There comes a time when the dishes have to be washed, when the sewers have to be cleaned and the wood has to be cut and the houses have to be built. We have to live and take care of one another. That, to me, is what an artist is. I make my clothes because I like clothes well made and I like something with imagination. And I can make them better myself than anybody else can make them. I find the time to do that. I learned to take care of my house and cook and be whatever there is that a woman needs to be."
As I sat wondering how this tall, beautiful singer/actress found time to design and sew clothes, she breezed on to the next topic of conversation. It was talk about the play she had been working on for several years, now complete and being produced at Mafundi Institute (a Black cultural center in Watts, California popular in the early and mid-1970s).
Mafundi means 'craft person. The name; there is enough room in that for us to give ourselves, and for me to give my time and my life. This is what I work for anyway, as a crafts person. I can see Mafundi all over the nation. Places where people can come in and express themselves ... like sanctuaries where you can go and make a joyful noise."
She told me that the play was autobiographical in a sense. It became Pig In A Polk" when I got to California in 1970. It's a story about a man's self love. Love of self and what he considers self to be. That was why he chose to treat the money as he did. He found some money in an alley and brought it home. Well, I see my career as that. When I came to music, I was on my way to being five years of age and it was a means of expressing myself because there was a piano in the house. And I always remember feeling alone. The folks never bothered me. They let me have my way and express myself on the piano. Nobody told me I couldn't play and nobody told me I got on their nerves. My mother really encouraged me."
That encouragement led her to the stage as a dance band vocalist when a young Anna Maria Wooldridge was just a teenager. She soon discovered her calling was also as an actress. In 1956 she was stunning in the film The Girl Can't Help It" starring blond bomb shell, Jayne Mansfield. Lincoln held her own with a figure that was provocative enough to wear a Marilyn Monroe dress in that film. This acting debut led to being cast in the film Nothing But a Man" with Ivan Dixon (1964) and later performing with Sidney Portier in 1968 in the equally successful movie, For the Love of Ivy." She also married and recorded with jazz great Max Roach
, which quickly propelled her back into the music spotlight.
I see myself and Max Roach as a vanguard in being realistic; in letting the work reflect the times. It has always been that the artist reflects the times. Billie Holiday did before me and Bessie Smith and all of them."
In a time when being Black and proud was not so popular, Abbey Lincoln appeared on Broadway in several stage plays including the highly acclaimed and unusual play entitled, The Blacks" along with Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou, Charles Gordone and Billy Dee Williams. Lincoln let her hair go 'au natural.' She told me she didn't love Hollywood but loved being a part of the theatrical vanguard. She resented having to audition for Hollywood parts. In the mid-seventies she was working in a special Los Angeles production of Women in the Performing Arts" along with Gloria Hendry, Paula Kelly and special guest artist Roger Mosley. She continued to carry her message of pride, self-realization and talent to both the stage and the recording studio. For a while she taught theatre at Northridge University in California and whenever time permitted she told me she loved encouraging the youth to pursue the arts. I was in awe of her energy and tenacity. Here was a woman who seemed to be the mother of creativity, goddess of song, actress superb, poet, lyricist, musician, painter, seamstress, educator and soul sister. What an inspiration!
I'd like to say that I really am thankful for my life and my career." She spoke with open sincerity. I have not found it to be a friendless place and there have not been burdens heaped on me. There's no misery in it, you know. It's very rewarding and I would always like to take an opportunity to encourage people to come to the stage. I think we all should come."NOTE: Reprinted in part and with permission from the Article in The Soul & Jazz Record Magazine entitled Abbey Lincoln Becomes Mother, God of Love" written and interviewed by Dee Dee McNeil.