I first heard Abbey’s music when I came to New York, back in the early ’80s; I heard the Freedom Now Suite. But I got to know her better through Steve Coleman, who was working with her at the time. She did an album called Talking to the Sun, and that was when I had an opportunity to work with Abbey. She had singers then. I didn’t appear on the recording, but I did do one performance with her. I got to spend some time with her. It was really a wonderful opportunity. I’m still very sad about her passing, and it’s a little difficult to talk about her.
Getting to know her was a pleasure beyond description, because Abbey was a powerful role model for me. She was an incredible singer, musician, storyteller, lyricist, painter. … She had all these amazing talents. I loved her mind; I studied her mind and the process. She had a profound impact on my development as an artist.
She did speak her mind. She was a great teacher; she did give me advice. She was one of those who said to me, “Why are you singing about moon and June? Why don’t you sing about what’s happening in your life?” I credit Steve Coleman with that, but I also have to give props to Abbey, because she was doing that. She was writing her own music that reflected her feelings about the times. She was a huge inspiration to me.
She would come to see me perform and I would go to see her perform. We’d spend time together, me listening and just enjoying her company. She got to meet my son, and even spent the night with me one time. She was doing a gig on 125th Street and she had lost the keys to her house. She called me and said, “Why don’t I just spend the night over at your place?” She came over and we hung out, and it was mind-blowing. Being able to spend time with her was an amazing gift. I don’t take any of that time for granted.
[As told to Lee Mergner]