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Jazz singer, actress Abbey Lincoln dies at 80

Abbey Lincoln simplified her singing style.
Abbey Lincoln simplified her singing style. "It isn't about showing how good your voice is," she said. "It's about saying something." (Brad Barket/getty Images)
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Her 1991 album, "You Gotta Pay the Band," featured original songs as well as a haunting rendition of the 1930s standard "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" The recording gained much of its lyrical poignancy from some the final performances of saxophonist Stan Getz, who died of cancer soon after.

"Stan helped save my career," Ms. Lincoln said in 1999. "Whenever a great musician works with you, it's an endorsement."

Ms. Lincoln performed at the Kennedy Center during the 2006 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival and released her final album, "Abbey Sings Abbey," in 2007.

"She was always moving ahead," Hentoff said. "She had a presence. She was always so individual."

She was born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago on Aug. 6, 1930, and grew up in rural Michigan as the tenth of 12 children. Drawn to music at an early age, she moved to Los Angeles at 19 and modeled her early career after Lena Horne.

From 1952 to 1954, she performed in Honolulu under the stage name Anna Marie, then returned to Los Angeles, where she adopted the name Gaby Lee. In 1956, she came up with Abbey Lincoln -- a combination of Westminster Abbey and Abraham Lincoln.

After meeting Roach in 1957, Ms. Lincoln became friends with other jazz musicians, including Thelonious Monk, who encouraged her in her first efforts as a songwriter.

Ms. Lincoln spent more than a month in a psychiatric hospital after her divorce from Roach in 1970 and never remarried. Survivors include two brothers and a sister.

In 1990, Ms. Lincoln returned to acting with a small role in Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues" but had mixed feelings about the film and about black artists who held African American life up to ridicule. She was particularly critical of Michael Jackson and his physical transformation: "He's brilliant; he can sing and dance in the tradition of his African ancestors, but he curses them by erasing them from his face and hair."

In her later years, through her majestic performances and her uncompromising integrity, Ms. Lincoln came to be seen as something of the guiding conscience of jazz.

"Sing a song correctly," she said, "and you live forever."

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