Aminata Moseka (Abbey Lincoln): “The Girl Can’t Help It”: She was a freedom fighter

We have inherited a great music. This music is a holdover. It comes with us like the skin, the texture of our hair. It’s our memory banks.” – Abbey Lincoln.

I have been blessed in many ways to have crossed paths with some of the giants of African history.

Singer/Actress Abbey Lincoln (Aminata Moseka) and drummer Max Roach are two that I have met. Roach, I came to know quite well, and Lincoln to a lesser extent.

Lincoln has now joined the ancestors. It is significant that she passed during the month of August which has come to be known as Black August in many circles. She was born on August 6, 1930 and died on August 14th at the age of 80.

The Chicago-born Lincoln had many names. She was born Anna Marie Wooldridge and was strongly influenced by famed jazz singer Billie Holiday.

She began her singing career in the mid-1950s with “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair – A Story of a Girl in Love” and performed until shortly before her death. Her last album, “Abbey Sings Abbey,” was released in 2007 and featured her own compositions.

Lincoln's career spanned six decades, during which time she recorded more than 20 albums, wrote her own songs, acted in films and television shows and was a pioneering voice in the Black Power and African Liberation movements.

In the 1970s, Lincoln appeared on several hit television shows, including “All in the Family” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.”

She also appeared in several films, including "Nothing  But A Man,” an independent film with Ivan Dixon; "For Love of Ivy” opposite Sidney Poitier in 1968, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe; and Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues.

She sang in the film “The Girl Can’t Help It,” a 1956 Jayne Mansfield vehicle about rock ‘n’ roll.

She once joked about how Max Roach had rescued her from the supper club set.

In “The Girl Can't Help It” she wore a Marilyn Monroe dress. She took off Monroe's dress, put on traditional African clothes, and let her natural, nappy hair grow for the world to see.
 
About her African name, she explained to me that Guinea's former President Ahmed Sekou Toure gave her the name Aminata.

The Minister of Information of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) named her Moseka. She had traveled to Africa as a guest of Miriam Makeba.

Renowned record executive Nat Hentoff saw Lincoln as the one most passionately committed to African liberation.

He said, "She was very outspoken, very much in front. She had integrity that could cut your head off."

Lincoln, Roach and Oscar Brown Jr., out of Chicago, collaborated on the groundbreaking album, "We Insist: Freedom Now Suite."
 
South Africa's apartheid government banned this album along with "Uhuru Afrika" by Randy Weston and Lena Horne's song, "Now."

The prohibition had made international headlines and was covered in a September 1964 issue of Downbeat magazine.

The recording became a landmark musical statement of the African liberation movement.

Lincoln later said that the political nature of the recording might have hurt her career.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2007, she said, "We all paid a price, but it was important to say something. It still is."

Lincoln not only talked the talk, she walked the walk.

She, Maya Angelou and a Trinidadian-African, named Rosa Guy, formed the Cultural Association for Women of African Heritage.

These women took heroic stands on African issues in the United States and aboard.

When Patrice Lumumba, the democratically elected president of the Congo, was assassinated on January 17, 1961, this group went into action.

These women, along with men like Max Roach, disrupted a United Nations meeting after learning that Lumumba had been murdered by Belgian imperialist and their Congolese stooges. This action took place on February 14, 1961.

The Afro-wearing Lincoln also paid tribute to the giant African Nationalist Marcus Mosiah Garvey on a piece called "Garvey's Ghost."

Max Stanford (today Muhammad Ahmad), who was a leading member of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), painted a picture of “Garvey's Ghost” that appeared on the cover of RAM's theoretical journal, "Black America."

Ahmad was influenced by Lincoln and Roach. The Philadelphia-born Ahmad pointed out in his volume, We Will Return In The Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975: “The ‘Freedom Now Suite’ immediately raised my political/cultural consciousness.”

He saw the revolutionary couple perform the “The Freedom Now Suite” at a National Association of Colored Peoples convention.

Lincoln worked with a who's who of the giants of the music, including Coleman Hopkins, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Rollins, Wynton Kelly, Kenny Dorham Booker Little, Archie Shepp, Rodney Kendrick and many of the heavyweights of the music that has come to be called jazz.

Lincoln and Roach fed off each other, creatively. They were married in 1962 and divorced in 1972.

When they both looked back on it, each remembered the other as representing salvation.

Roach said that Lincoln appeared "When I was drinking myself into oblivion."

Lincoln, on Roach: "My consciousness was opened. Max introduced me to museums and things, because I wasn't that kind. I didn't know anything about culture. I was really a simple country girl."

Toronto's own Sharron McLeod, Liz Wright and Cassandra Wilson were significantly impacted by Lincoln.

The great Cassandra Wilson said, “I learned a lot about taking a different path from Abbey. Investing your lyrics with what your life is about in the moment.”

 

Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali is the producer/host of Saturday Morning Live (SML), Diasporic Music on CKLN-FM and Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio. SML can be heard every Saturday from 10am to 1pm. www.ckln.fm ,Diasporic Music on CKLN every last Thursday 8pm to 10pm www.ckln.fm and Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio can be heard every two weeks on Uhuru Radio. http://uhurunews.com/radio/show?show_id=dm

 

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