Aminata Moseka in Braids
Aminata in Action
Aminata in a Pensive Mood
Aminata Young and Vibrant
Aminata in Style
*** Legends ***
“Legendary Jazz Singer, Songwriter and Actress.”
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Managing Editor
In memory of Aminata Moseka, the legendary queen of jazz who died last Saturday, August 14, the Sentinel has decided to re-run the Moseka legend, as a tribute and honor to this wonderful Black woman.
Born Anna Marie Wooldridge on August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, and later on named Aminata Moseka, Abbey Lincoln is a singer in the tradition of Billie Holiday, who touches the heart and rocks the soul. A jazz critic referred to her album (now CD) as one of the 16 greatest vocal jazz records of all time. However, getting from there to here has been a career struggle for her as she became one of America’s most prolific and spellbinding vocalists and composers–and she acts, too.
Though she grew up in rural Michigan, Wooldridge developed an interest and likeness for music as the family had a piano–maybe her family had the only piano on a farm anywhere on earth. But of eleven siblings, she was the only one that showed an interest in playing the piano and at an early age, she began singing in the school and church choirs.
Winter in Michigan was normally harsh and it was doubly harsher on the farm, and that was one of the reasons that propelled Wooldridge’s move to California and then to Hawaii. By then, she was using the stage name, “Gaby Lee” for her nightclub acts. It was back in California that she met Bob Russell who became her manager and anointed her with her future moniker, Abbey Lincoln.
At age 19, she had reportedly won an amateur singing contest and recorded her first album, “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love, accompanied by music legend Benny Carter. Then she got her first singing role in a film titled, “The Girl Can’t Help It.” That sent her to New York to the Village Vanguard, a haven for aspiring artists in Greenwich Village. There she mixed and mingled with some of the best in the music work, and where met her future husband, drummer and composer, Max Roach. (They were married from 1962 to 1970). She was also introduced to the political activism and by extension, the Civil Rights Movement.
She immersed herself in the movement while her talent was being developed. Lincoln, Roach and others like Oscar Brown, Jr., Charles Mingus and John Coltrane performed benefits and fund raisers for the movement to supplement the civil protests of the sixties. They collaborated on Roach’s masterpiece, “We Insist: Freedom Now Suite,” a landmark jazz civil rights recording.
Her talent then mushroomed and the movies beckoned. She did “Nothing But A Man” with Ivan Dixon followed by “For Love of Ivy” with Sidney Poitier, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. At the end of the decade, she had divorced Roach and moved back to California. She was among the first to sport an Afro hairstyle (also called a natural) back then and would later on, do the same for the traditional African braids, before either became popular.
She visited Africa with singer Mariam Makeba and while there she received the name “Aminata Moseka” from the Honorable Sacombi, Minister of Information for Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). “When he renamed me Moseka, and had Miriam tell me that it was a god of love in the form of a maiden, I knew I had come home,” she said and also cited it as an epiphany.
She divorced Roach in 1970, returned to California and became involved in community and cultural affairs in the Los Angeles area. Most notably, she taught at San Fernando College (now Cal State Northridge); worked with the Mafundi Institute, the Watts Writers Workshop and the Brotherhood Crusade where she performed at the Crusade’s fund raising concerts and dinners. During that time, she worked in a production entitled, “Women in the Performing Arts” and “A Pig in a Poke.”
During the 80s, she began working with younger, progressive jazz musicians such as Steve Coleman and in 1987 recorded an acclaimed tribute album to Billie Holiday. But it was not until 1990 that she really re-emerged with her first record on Verve Records “When the World is Falling Down.” That same year, she appeared in Spike Lee’s film Mo’ Better Blues. Her next album, “You Gotta Pay the Band” was released in1991, followed by “When There is Love” in1992, a collaboration with Hank Jones.
Moseka left California and headed back to New York to pursue her first love: Jazz music and singing. Gradually she continued where she had left off, getting a major boost as she signed up with Verve Records/France. As the final decade of the 20th century began, she released “The World is Falling Down;” it shot her straight to the top of the Jazz world. Since then she has followed with a string of successful CDs.
Her newfound success added an impressive collection of titles to her existing discography including such titles as “It’s Me,” “Wholley Earth,” “A Turtle’s Dream,” “Over the Years,” and many more. Moseka has run the gauntlet of stardom in her own unique way. She is also an accomplished painter, and a poet that gets better with time. In 2003, she received the National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Award. She released her final album, “Abbey Sings Abbey” in 2007; it was a retrospective on her extensive songbook.
Moseka died on August 14, 2010, in Manhattan, at the age of 80. Her brother, David Wooldridge, announced her death to the media saying that she had passed away in her Manhattan nursing home after experiencing deteriorating health for years following open-heart surgery in 2007. No cause of death was officially given.
A comprehensive list of her musical works spans the decades from 1956 through 2007. Of her passing, Poitier said, “She was really a gifted person and a truly wonderful actress.”