This Women’s History Month, Craft Recordings is celebrating one of the most inspiring women in jazz, Abbey Lincoln, with a special reissue of her landmark LP, Abbey Is Blue. Releasing May 28th and available for pre-order today, the 1959 album has been meticulously remastered from its original analog tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI.
The moving title—which will also be released in stunning, hi-res digital audio—features an all-star line-up of musicians, including Max Roach, Kenny Dorham, Stanley Turrentine, Philly Joe Jones, Wynton Kelly, and Sam Jones.
Abbey Lincoln (1930–2010) was more than just one of the great jazz vocalists. She was also a passionate activist in the civil rights movement, an accomplished songwriter, a talented actress, and an inspiring teacher. Born Anna Marie Wooldridge, Lincoln honed her skills as a club singer, performing in Los Angeles under a variety of stage names. Influenced by the likes of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, Lincoln possessed a distinctive and deeply emotive voice—one that quickly caught the attention of industry insiders. By the mid-1950s, she had landed a recording contract with the renowned New York jazz label, Riverside Records.
Lincoln’s three albums for Riverside, recorded between 1957–1959, found the artist pushing her creative boundaries and working alongside such innovative contemporaries as Sonny Rollins, Philly Joe Jones, Benny Golson, and her future husband, Max Roach. 1959’s Abbey Is Blue marked Lincoln’s fourth studio album and final recording with Riverside. A standout title in Lincoln’s prolific body of work, Abbey Is Blue took a stark turn from her earlier releases, which typically consisted of standards from the Great American Songbook. As the title suggests, Abbey Is Blue finds the singer solemn and reflective, singing about the harsh realities of the world. Her vocal talents, meanwhile, are on display, as Lincoln soulfully embodies the lyrical content of her songs.
According to Riverside co-founder Orrin Keepnews, who co-produced the album, each track on Abbey Is Blue was carefully and consciously selected by Lincoln. They included the Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes-penned “Lonely House,” from the 1946 opera Street Scene, the cutting theme to the 1928 silent film Laugh, Clown, Laugh, and Mongo Santamaría’s jazz standard, “Afro Blue,” featuring lyrics by Oscar Brown.
Lincoln also performed one of her original compositions, “Let Up.” Decades later, in an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts (which awarded Lincoln with the Jazz Masters Award in 2003), the artist spoke about the song, recalling, “My life was really becoming oppressive. I was trying to be seen as a serious performer. And there were many people making snide, ugly remarks about [me].” Lincoln had had enough, and “Let Up” was a bold message to her critics.
Lincoln was also feeling oppressed by the discrimination that she and her fellow Black Americans faced daily. As the civil rights movement of the ’60s was brewing, Abbey Is Blue served as a precursor to her work as an activist. The following year, she would collaborate on the incendiary We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. While Abbey Is Blue found the singer lamenting injustice, however, We Insist! faced it boldly and unflinchingly.
In his original liner notes for Abbey Is Blue, Keepnews mused, “…the truest image of sorrow, the bitterest taste of loneliness, the deepest shades of blue—such things are apt to be most haunting and most moving when a woman gives them voice. In this album, Abbey Lincoln proves once again that this is true.”
He added, “It is certainly the best singing by far that Abbey has done on record, and I think now—as I did much of the time while it was being recorded—that it stands up as among the most effective and moving albums that any singer has created in a long time.”