Reflections on the passing of Abbey Lincoln
Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.
A concert performance by Aminata Moseka (Abbey Lincoln) was as taut with emotional intensity as it was burnished with her unique musicality. Elsewhere in these pages, our jazz writer, Ron Scott, has penned a thoughtful obituary, but in the same way Aminata could arouse an audience with a live performance, her death has evoked a tide of reflections, some of which we now share with you.
"When I heard Sunday past that Abbey Lincoln had passed the day before," wrote Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, "I was not surprised. Her health had been steadily deteriorating over the past few months, as she was being cared for at the Amsterdam House, a Manhattan Upper West Side facility for the elderly. She was in a room next to my mother, Muneera Mubaaraka. Elombe Brath, a pioneering activist in the African liberation movement, also resides in the facility.
"Sister Abbey, or Aminata Moseka as she was known to us in the Pan-Africanist community, was a shining light and fiercely creative spirit who left a lasting impression on the global world of jazz. I last spoke with her a few months ago, before her health took a turn for the worse. I was walking in the hallway of the Amsterdam House when a young woman who was caring for her came from the opposite direction, pushing the jazz legend, who was seated in a wheel chair. I stopped and told the singer how much I loved, admired and appreciated who she was and her work over the many years. She smiled at me, and I'm glad I got a chance to say that to her..."
Imam Talib went on to say, "In his book 'John Coltrane and the Jazz Revolution of the 1960s,' author Frank Kofsky writes that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lincoln, along with her then-husband Max Roach, as well as Sonny Rollins and Charles Mingus, 'went beyond what was acceptable to the Jazz Establishment,' when the bold African-Americans acted 'to take and hold positions on the role of black people and black artists in U.S. society.' Kofsky further writes that [white American] jazz booking agents, concert and festival promoters, recording company executives, and radio-station and nightclub owners found Abbey Lincoln's ideas [which she expressed as the only woman in the aforementioned quartet of jazz revolutionaries] 'dangerously heretical.'"
"She worked with drummer Max Roach and saxophonist Sonny Rollins," noted jazz authority Martin Johnson
Renowned poet and activist George Edward Tait forwarded this e-mail: "On Friday, August 6, 2010, my wife, Akosua, and I paid a brief visit to Aminata in celebration of her 80th birthday. Akosua brought her flowers, and she presented her with a T-shirt produced by Nana Camille Yarbrough. I brought a poem that I wrote for the occasion, entitled 'Birthday for a Queen.'
"Akosua read the words on the T-shirt to her: 'I AM THE MOTHER OF CIVILIZATION. I CARRY MYSELF WITH DIGNITY. HUMANITY WAS BORN IN AFRICA.'"
Tait said, "I read my poem and said a few words about her being an icon of inspiration. Before my wife and I left, she suggested that I leave the poem with Aminata. I did."
This is the poem Tait left to enshrine Aminata:
"Birthday for a Queen"
Octogenarian of stark originality and standing ovations
Validated by vanguard vision and visceral voice
A statuesque songstress and sacrosanct stylist:
The synergism of scintillating presence with scorching power.
Behold an activist lady of Afrikan liberation
Garmented with global glory and grandassa glow;
Behold a star of the screen and sage of the stage.
Behold an 80-year expression of elegance and enchantment.