Lincoln grew up in Michigan, the granddaughter of enslaved African Americans. When her grandmother was freed in 1865, the man who enslaved her “sent her out of the house with a dime and a couple of blankets,” Lincoln says. Her grandparents lived in abandoned streetcars, and the family worried that her grandfather’s violence was a trauma response to the horrors of enslavement.
Lincoln struggled in school. She found that jazz music offered her the space and freedom to be fully herself. “There is no such thing as jazz,” she says. “There’s only a song and your spirit and your ancestors.” Lincoln used the stage as a platform to sing about the struggles that Black people faced. That passion for justice, she says, turned her singing into art:
“I, Abbey Lincoln, sing about what is most important to me, and what is most important to me is being free of the shackles that chain me in every walk of life that I live. If this were not so, I would still be a supper club singer.”
Hear her stories