P / P Essay – An Open Letter to Mother Abbey Lincoln

Photo credit: Enid Farber

Editor’s Note: I am a young writer. I’ll see my 33rd year in October. Recently, I became inspired by a few pieces that I’ve written about artists that have passed away, artists who mean something to me. While working on a piece about Ms. Jeanne Lee (January 25, 1939 – October 25, 2000), I read that jazz singer, Abbey Lincoln was one of her biggest influences. Reading that made me stop and reflect. Ms. Lincoln is not only an influence of mine, but a spirit guide. I recently wrote about African American, folk singer, Odetta here on P / P who I called…or wrote out to for guidance as an elder. 

In this instance, I realized Ms. Jeanne Lee and I ha(d)ve something in common when it comes to our admiration for Abbey Lincoln. Ms. Lee, Odetta and Ms. Lincoln are all relatively unknown jazz musicians in mainstream America. Their quiet, powerful souls didn’t ask for much and didn’t get much at the end of their lives. I believe they deserve more. 

All I have to do is tilt my head a few degrees at this very moment to see my vintage vinyl of Ms. Lincoln’s 1981 album “Golden Lady” watching over me. This is not about religion, superstition or ideology. This is about lineage, connection and realizing that these women were not alone, even if they were lost in history. They make me feel like I am not alone either.

Golden Lady – Track List

1. Sophisticated Lady
2. Golden Lady
3. Painted Lady On The Stage
4. Throw It Away
5. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life
6. Caged Bird

_____________________________________

Dear Mother Lincoln,

I write this with respect and homage to my own mother who made the choice to give birth to me on a fall afternoon some years ago. But as she makes her way through life, a life which I honor, I have to come to you and ask you for your strength. I have to ask you for your undying smile and the simplicity you chose to exhibit near the end of your life.

I first heard your later work – Abbey Sings Abbey (2007).

abbey sings abbey

Listen to the beautiful track, Throw It Away.

Mother Lincoln, teach me to throw away what is spiritually not for me. Give me the courage to follow my destiny, even if it seems like I am moving towards the unknown. I know the story behind your song, Throw It Away, which I read in the book, I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters on Their Craft, edited by LaShonda Katrice Barnett, PhD in the local library a couple of years ago. But I’ll keep the details between you, me and the ones who read the book, and the ones who truly care about your music and your legacy.

In one of my favorite songs of yours, Throw It Away, you sing, “you can never lose a thing if it belongs to you.”

I ask that you lend me your courage to do the right thing. Please assist in keeping me safe through your prayers and music. I am thankful I found your music. Many people here on the Earth still love you, even though you are physically not here.

As of now, my mind is clear, but everyone needs help from time to time. I pray your music heals what ails me and allows me to have a healthy life. I hope to rebuild belief in myself and all the women who have been lost in history. I hope I don’t get lost in what some are trying to make me out to be.

You’ve always been yourself. Give me the guts Black women were born with.

Dear Mother Abbey, let your music validate my open heart and sound mind through your prayers and through your gift of song.

Throw It Away Lyrics

I think about the life I live
A figure made of clay
And think about the things I lost
The things I gave away
And when I’m in a certain mood
I search the house and look
One night I found these magic words
In a magic book
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
There’s a hand to rock the cradle
And a hand to help us stand
With a gentle kind of motion
As it moves across the land
And the hand’s unclenched and open
Gifts of life and love it brings
So keep your hand wide open
If you’re needing anything
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
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
‘Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you
You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you
You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you
You can never ever lose a thing
If it belongs to you
Songwriters: Abbey Lincoln
Throw It Away lyrics © BMG Rights Management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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