Abbey Lincoln: A Woman Speaking Her Mind

The Purpose of Art

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Do you think that songs have the power to change or at least to help?

ABBEY LINCOLN: I don’t do it for that reason; it’s for my own spirit. I believe that God made us and God made the world and God has to fix it. I’m not trying to change anything. I’m not trying to fix it. I didn’t make it. [wipes eyes] It’s the creator’s world. And if it’s all right with God, it has to be all right with me. I don’t know why we’re going through this—all of this. [blows nose] Nobody made anything here. But as you can see, I’m beside myself. I’d rather cry than…

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Do you want to take a break for a minute?

ABBEY LINCOLN: I’m okay.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: You’re all right? Abbey, I think it’s better to cry than not to cry and not to care!

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yeah. Yeah.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Because if you don’t care, then…

ABBEY LINCOLN: You may as well…

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: you may as well not be here!

ABBEY LINCOLN: That’s right. All that we have that we can depend upon is love. You have some regard for yourself and the people that you know and we all deserve some love.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Is music part of that love?

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yes. The arts are the expression of the great human, holy spirit that is love. Through the arts, through technology, through the sciences. They talk about Egypt all the time. It’s because the artists did that work. The artists created that house that’s on our money.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: The pyramids.

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yes. They were totally fascinated with their ability to express themselves as brilliant human beings. So what is this? It’s disgusting.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: Well, they knew everything. They had the math and the sciences and music.

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yes.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: It’s the cradle of civilization.

ABBEY LINCOLN: Yes. So we can’t say that nobody told us, because it’s not true. Somebody did tell us. And they also wrote that the love of money was the root of all evil. That is an absolute truth. You’re not supposed to love money. And it does grow on trees! How insulting and rude are you going to be to somebody and say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees?” And you make it out of paper and where does paper come from?

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: [laughs] I never thought about it quite that way before.

ABBEY LINCOLN: It’s amazing. Oh, I mean, it’s really a sneer. I mean, it’s a spit in your face, a total lack of respect. Yeah, it doesn’t grow on trees. Oh, my. And you’re not supposed to say anything, you know? They’re going to clone a human being and the women have been cloning— the female clones everybody who comes here. You’d think somebody would knock this man in his mouth, would hurt him for saying such a thing to us. Yeah, she clones everybody. I look like my mother, I think like my mother, my mother and father. This is who we are. We come from our ancestors. We’re living in a weird time.

LARA PELLEGRINELLI: That’s why it’s important to have art.

ABBEY LINCOLN: Without art, we would not be human. All human beings practice the arts. All of them. They have music, they dance, and they create things and make things. Women create the people. She’s the one that makes the people. He builds the bridges and the houses and makes cars and things. He’s brilliant. He’s the perfect other half to the woman and vice versa.