Lincoln was one of many singers influenced by Billie Holiday. She often visited the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. Her debut album, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair – A Story of a Girl in Love, was followed by a series of albums for Riverside Records. In 1960 she sang on Max Roach's landmark civil rights-themed recording, We Insist!. Lincoln’s lyrics were often connected to the civil rights movement in America.
During the 1980s, Lincoln’s creative output was smaller and she released only a few albums during that decade. During the 1990s and until her death, however, she fulfilled a 10-album contract with Verve Records. These albums are highly regarded and represent a crowning achievement in Lincoln’s career. Devil’s Got Your Tongue (1992) featured Rodney Kendrick, Grady Tate, J. J. Johnson, Stanley Turrentine, Babatunde Olatunji and The Staple Singers, among others.
In 2003, Lincoln received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Award.