From Abby To Abbey: An Open Letter to Abbey Lincoln
I was afraid to be what I am for a long time, but it is truly an honor to be an artist. It is an honor and a privilege to be a singer, songwriter, producer of beauty, a medicine woman, culture critic, thinker, analyst, dreamer, dream maker, observer, creator and a concerned world citizen.
It was a few months ago that I heard that you were in a nursing home in Harlem and I wanted to see you…to meet you…to tell you how much I love your work and appreciate you. I did not do it. My mother always says that delay is danger and I regret not trying to see you. There is so much I wanted to ask you and to tell you. You were my namesake…You were Abbey to my Abby.
I was getting my nails done on Saturday afternoon in a nail salon on long island where I live when I got a twitter message that you had passed at 80 years of age. I honestly did not know what to do. I gasped suddenly and the nice woman doing my nails looked at me and asked if she had hurt me. I told her “no…it’s just that someone I loved but had never met is no longer here.”
I can still remember the first and only time I ever saw you perform Miss Abbey. It was in Chocolate City … Washington DC. You were wearing this beautiful suit looking real sharp and sassy. I forget the color of your suit, but you were wearing this hat full of majesty…you simply looked marvelous. You were surrounded by younger male musicians, all incredibly talented. And you performed not on a stool, but from a chair that looked like it was velvet with a tall back to frame your regality. You looked every bit of the Queen that you were and will always be. Why do we not do the things that we should sometimes until a loved one is dead. And Abbey, you should know that I loved you. You put so many things together that I had not seen put together in the ways that you put them together. You put lyrics together like a magician lining up her tools. You made magic. You showed me by example how a singer was more than a melody maker. Every cell in your body, every note you sang, every gesture you made on stage, every lyric you wrote, cried freedom. You also spoke not just with your songs, but with the way you lived your life.
You should know how much I enjoyed listening to Abbey Sings Abbey. The instrumentation was just incredible. Your delivery was moving. Your words, though, are your true legacy and they touch me to my very core. “You can never lose a thing if it belongs to you” is poignant in a way that is beyond description, whether you are talking about a man, a job or any other person place or thing.
“ Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day
And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
‘Cause you can never lose a thing, if it belongs to you”
– from Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away”
You inspire me to stop and look at the world and to say as boldly and as bravely as I can that “I am Here”. In your own words, “You know, when everything is finished in a world, the people go to look for what the artists leave. It’s the only thing that we have really in this world – is an ability to express ourselves and say I was here…” Thank you, Miss Abbey for your legacy. Thank you for your honesty, your passion, your heart (as heard and felt in your music) and for your bravery.
With so much love and respect,