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A TRIBUTE TO ABBEY LINCOLN: TERRACE THEATER/KENNEDY CENTER, WASHINGTON DC MAY 20, 2011
Abbey Lincoln was a singer-songwriter of uncommon depth and relevance. During her life, she actively mentored musicians and singers, populating her live band and recordings with the best and brightest. Four of her stellar successors, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Terri Lynne Carrington, graced the stage at the Terrace Theater at Kennedy Center in fine and fitting tribute to the artistry of their Jazzy Godmother.

Abbey Lincoln’s songbook is at once poetic and complex, mysterious and cinematic, political and moving, but always, as Reeves stated, rooted in truth. As she aged, her songs rolled out like parables from an oracle and her willing students stepped up to bravely take up the mantle. Starting as a chorus, they electrified the audience with a driving “The River”, with each singer bringing her singular style to the collective.

As the de facto host, Ms. Bridgewater spoke of a conversation with Lincoln before her passing and her wish to keep her music alive after she was gone. Accordingly, Bridgewater brought her dramatic delivery to “The Music Is The Magic,” the expressionistic panorama of “Wholly Earth” - "Oh the holy earth's a mural, seen from way up high/ Abstracted, natural, bas relief, witnessed from the sky." The deeply moving “Another World” (whose theme is based on the 5 notes instantly familiar from the film “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.”) is definitely one of Lincoln’s most innovative creations.

Ms. Reeves gave her down-to-earth version of the evocative “Bird Alone,” the shouting “Tender As A Rose” and the heartrending “It’s Supposed To Be Love” which begins with the challenging opening lines, “Body slam you to the ground, messaging a chill/Curses make the head go 'round, brings a certain thrill.” She told of an interview she had with Lincoln, where the reporter asked, “What is Jazz?” As she gathered her thoughts, Lincoln unequivocally stated, “Jazz is a Spirit.”

Ms. Wilson related her early work with Aminata Moseka (Lincoln’s given name when she visited Zaire in the ‘60s), who advised her to move to New York from New Orleans in the mid-‘80s. While singing background with Lincoln, Wilson was impressed with the song “Talking To The Sun.” She asked if she could record it. Abbey gave her a side-glance look and a non-verbal negative response. Well now was the time, and she stepped gracefully into the percussive tune. She also swung nicely with “I Got Thunder (And It Rings).” And with much passion and sentiment she delivered the message, “Throw It Away,”"...and the hand's unclenched and open, gifts of life and love it brings/so keep your hands wide open if you're needing anything."

Drummer Terri Lynne Carrington led an astounding sextet comprised of Peter Martin on piano, Mark Turner on saxophone, Marvin Sewell on guitar, James Genus on bass and Luisito Quintero on percussion. The players offered vigorous support and colorful solos throughout the evening.

In closing, the singers gathered for a beautiful reading of “Caged Bird,” (complete with various humorous bird calls) and a rousing rendition of “Freedom Day,” the powerful protest song Lincoln recorded with Max Roach in 1961.

This event was a part of the 16th annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. It is a rare treat to see so many strong musical personalities on stage at once, but the atmosphere was one of complete solidarity and reverence. There was mention of the historic nature of the concert and a suggestion that they take the show on the road. For the good of music lovers everywhere, and in celebration of the spirit of Abbey Lincoln, that would be most appropriate.

About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.
  
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