A Magical Connection to Abbey Lincoln

Read the Winning Piece from our 50 Classics Essay Contest

On July 30th 2021 » By Alex Maidy

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In July, VMP celebrated our 50th Classics Record of the Month with Abbey Lincoln’s It’s Magic! In honor of this incredible milestone, we invited members and non-members to participate in an essay contest to win the top prize: nearly every Classics record we’ve pressed — 40+ total, valued at $2,000. Contestants were asked to respond to one of six prompts with an essay about one of our 50 Classics records (or their future pick for the Track).

With over 200 amazing entries in just two weeks, picking three winners was no easy task. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to every single applicant who took the time to write such heartfelt, detailed pieces about our Classics records. We read and enjoyed each entry, and deliberated for a great deal of time.

Congratulations to our second-place winner Thomas Werner, who wrote about Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Gospel Train, and our third-place winner Chris Prince, who wrote about Art Blakey’s The Freedom Rider. You can read their entries in our weekly newsletter, The Standard, in the upcoming weeks. (Not a subscriber? You can change that in your VMP email preferences!)

Below, you can read the grand-prize winning essay by Alex Maidy, who shared his exciting personal connection to none other than our 50th Classics artist herself, Abbey Lincoln.

The 50th VMP Classics record holds a special place for me because of my connection to Abbey Lincoln. It all started when I went to college. Like many 18-year-olds broadening their horizons, I discovered a love of jazz. In a classroom, the associate professor decided to show us Ken Burns’ iconic documentary on the history of the genre. While many of my classmates were bored, I was astounded. I had a cursory knowledge of jazz limited to the big names: Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, among many. I began to fervently consume as much jazz as I possibly could by checking out CDs from the public library and assembling a catalog, piecemeal, of tracks from Napster (this was the early 2000s, after all). It felt like an entire chapter of history had opened to me at once and I drank it all in.

Consuming that much music was like trying to drink from a firehose, but I was hooked. I tried every genre, every obscure band that everyone told me I just had to try, and even began growing my own collection. Hundreds of burned CDs littered my dorm room. While I tried listening to as much as I could, I became obsessed with one artist in particular: Abbey Lincoln. Part Billie Holliday, part Maya Angelou and just an absolute stunner, I listened to every album she released. I watched her movies, including Nothing but a Man, The Girl Can’t Help It and For Love of Ivy. I rewatched Mo’ Better Blues. I tried to find a poster of her for my dorm room. I procured vinyl copies of Abbey Lincoln’s Affair and Abbey Is Blue. I felt like I had found a lost treasure no one knew about.

When I returned home to the Chicago suburbs, I would not stop talking about jazz. I visited my neighbors, David and Juana Wooldridge, family friends since we had moved into our home a few years prior. The Wooldridges welcomed me back from my first semester at school and they asked me what I had learned. I immediately began spilling my cobbled knowledge of jazz. The first Black vice president at Motorola and a brilliant man, the man I called Uncle David, smiled and humored me as I told him about a genre he already had an intimate knowledge of. I then told him about this great artist and asked, had he heard of Abbey Lincoln?

Uncle David laughed and grabbed his chest. I was confused; had I said something wrong? He rolled with laughter for a minute before stopping and grasping my shoulder. He smiled and said, “Abbey is my sister.”

My jaw dropped. Born Anna Marie Wooldridge, this artist I listened to and watched was my neighbor’s sister! Uncle David popped in a video of a documentary about her featuring interviews with him. I was astounded.

I thought that would be the end of it, but when I returned a few months later, I visited the Wooldridges for lunch. I walked in the door and at the table was Abbey Lincoln herself. I could barely contain myself. For the next few hours, she told me stories of her friendship with Maya Angelou, dinners with Miles Davis, her marriage to Max Roach and more. I will never forget this life-changing experience.

While I never got the chance to meet her again before she passed away in 2010, she did leave me with a personalized copy of her album Wholly Earth, a treasured possession of mine. She is a remarkable musician and I could not be more excited that her brilliant album, It’s Magic, is the July VMP Classics Record of the Month. I cannot wait for everyone to be blown away like I was.

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