Many musicians lead double lives with other creative pursuits. In most cases, their musical prowess greatly overshadows that secondary output. Who can dispute that Miles Davis was a much greater musician and band leader than painter? Ditto Captain Beefheart. But sometimes the dabbling is so very enjoyable we go along for the ride. As a seventeen year old, Will Oldham began his professional life in John Sayles' film Matewan. Mos Def was charming in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Be Kind, Rewind. Juana Molina had a first rate career as a comedian in Argentina before becoming an indie darling. Abbey Lincoln starred opposite Sidney Poitier in the 1968 film For Love of Ivy and was nominated for a Golden Globe.
I can't say this was a remarkable film, or even a very good one. But as a time capsule of what cinema was like and how Hollywood saw fit to portray the struggle of black America and the response of white America, it is engrossing. Through "2009" eyes it was so oddly revealing of the depths of 1960's racism and the transparency of hippie affectations that pretended racism didn't exist. There are so many jaw dropping moments in the first 15 minutes of dialog it's hard to comprehend that the plot was actually adapted from a story by Sidney Poitier. Abbey plays a domestic for a Long Island upper middle class family (headed by Carroll O'Connor), who gives her notice at the start of the movie in order to search for a more fulfilling life in New York City. Devastated at the possibility of losing a 'member of their family' the young adult children (who are still living at home) devise a plan to find a man to occupy Ivy. Sidney Poitier is semi blackmailed into meeting her and several awkward dates later we are still not sure what the attraction is between them. Poitier's character has a dark side to his business, which references a life of Harlem speak-easy's and Cotton Club exotica. Odd throwback indeed.
Starting with Abbey's singing with Max Roach on the 1960 We Insist-Freedom Now Suite, Abbey Lincoln's reputation was cemented as a civil rights radical. Many musicians performed at benefits in the 1950's for the NAACP and CORE, but the sentiment of 'We Insist-Freedom Now Suite' assuredly proclaimed the rising resentment in the jazz community with America's indifference toward it's institutionalized racism. From the moment Abbey Lincoln opens her mouth in For Love of Ivy you can hear her singing cadence in the dialog. From her politics to her lack of headliner draw, she seems an unlikely candidate to star opposite Poitier. Both of their characters in this film are puzzling to me, it's difficult to accept that these are desirable roles for talented African American performers in 1960's film.
In addition to this film, Abbey starred in Nothing but a Man and sang a memorable number in The GIrl Can't Help It,