Abbey Lincoln: A Woman Speaking Her Mind

African Heritage

ABBEY LINCOLN: The reason the African American people have music is because our ancestors practiced it. Music and dance. [claps] Hey! Forever. And we inherited it like our hair and our skin. The ability to express yourself.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: You went to Africa.

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yeah, I’ve been there a couple of times. Miriam Mikeba took me there and introduced me to the heads of state. She was Sékou Touré‘s friend.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: In Guinea?

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yeah. She worked for the state. And, yeah, so that’s where I’ve gotten my African names. I’m Aminata Moseka. I got a bunch of names. Anna Marie Wooldridge was the name I was born with. Then I took Gaby because the people at the Moulin Rouge in Los Angeles wanted me to have a French name. They didn’t know I already had one. I didn’t either. Anna Marie is as French as it gets. And Wooldridge is English. They gave me Gaby and kept Wooldridge so I had a German and an English name. It’s America! [laughs] And then Bob Russell named me Abbey Lincoln, because we used to sit and talk about life. He understood how I felt about my people because he felt the same way about his. He said to me, “Well, since Abraham Lincoln didn’t free the slaves, maybe you could handle it.” Named me Abbey Lincoln and I laughed, but that’s the name that I took. Abbey for Westminster Abbey he told me, and Lincoln for Abraham Lincoln. He was aware of his self and of his people—socially aware. He’s the first socially aware person that I met. Bob Russell. Roach is socially aware. Duke Ellington, all of the great ones. I met Louie Armstrong in Honolulu, Billie Holiday, who sang “Strange Fruit.” Yeah.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: What was the experience like going to Africa the first time?

ABBEY LINCOLN: I knew I had come home when the minister of information named me Moseka in Zaire. He told Miriam to tell me because they spoke French. He told me that Moseka was a god of love in the form of a maiden. He didn’t tell me it was a goddess and I knew that I had come home because I know that God is a god—male and female. I do not worship the man, any man as God alone. I’m the one. It’s me and him. She’s the one who makes the baby out of her. She clones the baby. The women ought to be ashamed of themselves to do this, to play this role and then blame him for it. How could you bring a baby, carry it for nine months and create it and praise God “He”? There’s just no, it’s perfectly understandable that He’s as crazy as He is. And He is crazy. Almost as crazy as She is. Yeah. He, Him, fall on your knees and worship Him! Is he supposed to know the difference between Him, that Him, and him? It’s not right. And lean all over Him? She’s not God or the Devil. He’s both. She’s nobody. I don’t respect it at all. It makes me angry too. That we’re going through all of this. For what reason? Is She a coward? She can’t tell him that She’s God? He doesn’t know that She’s God? She ought to knock him out then! What kind of a fool is that? So, my music is full of all this. Stories that I tell about the life I’ve had “…a figure made of clay. I think about the things I lost, the things I gave away. And when I’m in a certain mood, I search the halls…”