Abbey Lincoln: A Woman Speaking Her Mind

The Process of Composing

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: When you begin to compose, how does a song take shape?

ABBEY LINCOLN: I can’t explain it. It just comes. It’s through concentration and I have to wait on the spirit that brings the music. But when I sit down and I start, that’s all. I start. And I’m accompanied, I know this, by my spirit, whoever that is and everything. They write all this stuff. It’s not me. I’m an instrument that they use.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: A medium?

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yes. An instrument. Yes.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Do you find that you find your texts first?

ABBEY LINCOLN: No, it depends.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Or it’s just all…

ABBEY LINCOLN: It all depends.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Can you give me an example?

ABBEY LINCOLN: “Look to the Star” came as a composition first. It took me a while to find the words. Usually I find the words first, but sometimes not. I always did like language. There was a big dictionary in the back of the school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I went to a one-room schoolhouse. I love language—to express yourself through words.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: You’d mentioned to me, too, that Bob Russell had given you a book on rhetoric?

ABBEY LINCOLN: No, not rhetoric. He gave me a book, Hayakawa wrote one, on semantics and helped me to approach things from a serious standpoint, reading, how to begin and read the whole book, everything from the very beginning. Yeah, semantics. How To Increase Your Vocabulary By a Thousand Words or Less, or something like that, was the name of another book. And it did help me too.

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