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Louis Jordan: 1908-1975

  • Louis Jordan born in Brinkley, Arkansas

    Louis Jordan born in Brinkley, Arkansas
    He is raised by his grandmother. His father, James Jordan, organizes and coaches the Brinkley Brass Band and tours minstrel shows. Throughout Louis’ childhood, James insists that Louis will be a musician.
  • The NAACP founded in New York City

    The NAACP founded in New York City
    Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was one of the earliest and most influential civil rights organization in the United States. During its early years, the NAACP focused on legal strategies designed to confront the critical civil rights issues of the day. They called for federal anti-lynching laws and coordinated a series of challenges to state-sponsored segregation in public schools.
  • Headphones are invented

    Headphones are invented
    Utah Mormon and Nathaniel Baldwin create the first “headphones” out of copper wiring and an operator’s headband.
  • United States enters World War I

    United States enters World War I
    Approximately 370,000 African Americans join the armed forces. Over 1,000 black officers command troops.
    Learn more
  • Starts playing with Brinkley Brass Band

    Jordan began playing the clarinet around the age of 7 with the Brinkley Brass Band, a band coached and co-organized by his father, musician James Jordan.
  • First radio news program is broadcast

    First radio news program is broadcast
    The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news format station WWJ under ownership of the CBS network.
  • ACLU is founded

    ACLU is founded
    Following World War I, America was gripped by the fear that the communism would spread to the US. In what notoriously became known as the “Palmer Raids,” Attorney General Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals. Thousands of people were arrested without regard to constitutional protections and brutally treated. In the face of these egregious civil liberties abuses, a group of people decided to take a stand, and thus was born the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • Shuffle Along opens on Broadway

    Shuffle Along opens on Broadway
    Shuffle Along by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, the first major play of the Harlem Renaissance, opens on Broadway, following touring productions around New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the time, it was the first all African-American musical production in more than a decade, and was credited with launching the Harlem Renaissance as well as the careers of notable performers such as Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, and Adelaide Hall.
  • Starts playing with Rabbit Foot Minstrels

    Starts playing with Rabbit Foot Minstrels
    Jordan starts playing with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.
    During the first half of the 20th century, the African American entertainers of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels played a major role in spreading the blues via tours across the South. Founded in 1900, the “Foots” were headquartered in Port Gibson between 1918 and 1950 under owner F.S. Wolcott. Notable members included Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Ida Cox, Louis Jordan, and Rufus Thomas.
  • Bessie Smith records “Downhearted Blues”

    Bessie Smith records “Downhearted Blues”
    Bessie Smith records “Downhearted Blues” with Columbia Records. It is the first million-selling record by an African American artist. Smith became the most popular of the classic female blues singers, in an era that stretched roughly through the 1920s and ’30s. She also became the highest paid black entertainer of the period. She went on to record 160 records for Columbia and would often be accompanied by some of the greatest musicians of the era.
  • Cotton Club opens

    Cotton Club opens
    Opened in 1923, the Cotton Club on 142nd St & Lenox Ave in the heart of Harlem was operated by white New York gangster Owney Madden. Madden used the Cotton Club as an outlet to sell his “#1 Beer” to the prohibition crowd. Shows at the Cotton Club were musical revues that featured dancers, singers, comedians, and variety acts, as well as a house band. The entertainers who played at the Cotton Club were some of the most widely known blues and jazz performers of their time.
  • Begins playing for the Silas Green from New Orleans Show

    Begins playing for the Silas Green from New Orleans Show
    Jordan buys a C-melody saxophone and began playing for the Silas Green from New Orleans Show. Part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show, the show told the adventures of short, "coal-black" Silas Green and tall, "tannish" Lilas Bean.
  • Enrolls in Arkansas Baptist College

    Enrolls in Arkansas Baptist College
    Jordan attended Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock for a short time, majoring in music. After school played with local bands including Jimmy Pryor’s Imperial Serenaders on the Sax and Bob Alexander’s Harmony King. He married his first wife, Julie, around this time.
  • Starts playing for Ruby Williams’ band

    Ruby Williams, the band leader, was unusual for the time and place, being a black and a woman. She played piano in the band, which also featured her husband, Selmer 'Tuna Boy' Williams. Ruby was impressed by Jordan's command of instruments, his pleasant singing voice, and the fact that he seemed to know every popular song. They played for an almost exclusively white clientele.
    Source: Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music by John Chilton
  • Moves to Pennsylvania and marries again

    Jordan moves to Pennsylvania with Dr. Sell’s Traveling Medicine Show with Ida Fields. He didn't work out with the medicine show, but he found his second wife, Ida Fields. She was born in Texas, was six years older than Louie and had been a member of a traveling dance troupe. They married in 1932 and got an apartment at 705 South Fifteenth Street.
  • Joins Charlie Gaines’ band

    Joins Charlie Gaines’ band
    Jordan moves to Philadelphia and joins Charlie Gaines’ band playing the clarinet and saxophone. The band accompanies Louis Armstrong in a recording session for his first vocal solo, “I Can’t Dance I got Ants in my Pants.”
  • Jordan moves to New York City

    Jordan moves to New York City
    In New York, he took part in a recording session with pianist Clarence Williams’ band, and briefly worked with the bands of Kaiser Marshall and drummer Joe Marshall.
  • Joins Chick Webb's orchestra

    Joins Chick Webb's orchestra
    Chick Webb hears Louis Jordan play at the Apollo and asks him to join his band—a 13-piece ensemble that featured singer Ella Fitzgerald. Jordan eagerly accepts. Webb hired Jordan as a singer, sideman, and announcer. In 1937 Jordan recorded his first vocal with Webb’s band, a song titled “Gee, But You’re Swell.”
    Listen here.
  • Jordan records with Ella Fitzgerald

    Jordan records with Ella Fitzgerald
    Jordan records "There’s Frost on the Moon" and "Wake Up And Live" with Ella Fitzgerald and Charles Linton. Apparently Chick Webb barred Ella from dating any of the band's musicians (and told the band not to try to date her), but the first to ignore this was alto saxophone player Louis Jordan. In the end, Fitzgerald and Jordan became close friends, sharing many duets.
  • Jordan is fired by Chick Webb

    Jordan is fired by Chick Webb
    Jordan is fired by Chick Webb due to allegedly upstaging Ella Fitzgerald and plotting to take members of the band with him in a new band. Louis Jordan and his new band, “The Elks Rendezvous Band,” have their first recording session.
  • Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five

    Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
    He renames his band and it is first billed as Louie Jordan and his Tympany Five, because he hated when his first name was mispronounced. The band goes on to launch 57 singles onto the R&B charts in the Forties, including 18 songs that went to Number One.
  • World War II begins

    World War II begins
    2.5 Million African American men sign up for the draft. Most black men who served were in the Army and were relegated to segregated combat support groups. More than 12,000 black men who served in the segregated 92nd Division received citations and were decorated for their effort, and the all-black 761st Tank Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for “extraordinary heroism.”
    Photo: Battery B, 338th Antiaircraft Artillery, ca. 1943, detail. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
  • Records "Five Guys Named Moe"

    Records "Five Guys Named Moe"
    The Tympany Five plays at Chicago’s Savoy Ballroom, the Regal Theatre on the South Side, and the Oriental Theatre.
    Jordan and his band record "Five Guys Named Moe." Listen here.
    Jordan marries for the third time to Fleecie Moore, his childhood sweetheart.
  • Records with Bing Crosby

    Records with Bing Crosby
    Bing Crosby and Louis Jordan have a recording session together featuring "My Baby Said Yes" and "Your Sox Don't Match." The two never recorded together again, but this one coupling gained an enormous amount of air plays over the years and helped broaden Louis' appeal even further.
    Source: Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music by John Chilton
  • Jordan records “Caldonia”

    Jordan records “Caldonia”
    Jordan records “Caldonia,” “Buzz me,” and “Somebody Changed the Lock on My Door.”
    Still married to Fleecie, Louis Jordan begins dating a chorus dancer, Florence Hayes.
    Nat King Cole becomes the first African American to have a radio variety show.
    Television is born.
  • Records Beware!, an all-black musical

    Records Beware!, an all-black musical
    Jordan and his Tympany Five records Beware!, an all-black musical.
    The Tympany Five has five top songs on the “Race Records” chart. Their hit, "Choo Choo Ch’Boogie," runs 35 weeks at number one.
  • Records "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Ella

    Records "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Ella
    Jordan records duet, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, with Ella Fitzgerald.
    Listen here
  • Records with Louis Armstrong

    Records with Louis Armstrong
    Louis and Fleecie settle in Phoenix, AZ.
    Jordan has a recording session with Louis Armstrong.
    TV dominates over radio as big stars hit the screens. Radio concentrates on playing records.
  • Jordan disbands his big band

    Louis Jordan adds an electric guitar to the Tympany Five.
    Jordan marries Vicky Hayes, and his ex-wife, Fleecie Moore, lives off of her royalties from her “co-composition” of "Caldonia" and "Buzz Me."
    Jordan disbands his big band.
  • Brown v. Board of Education

    Brown v. Board of Education
    The Supreme Court unanimously rules that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
    Photo: Linda Brown Smith, Ethel Louise Belton Brown, Harry Briggs, Jr., and Spottswood Bolling, Jr. during press conference at Hotel Americana. NYWT&S staff photo by Al Ravenna. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress.
  • Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat

    Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat
    On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake's order to give up her seat in the "colored section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled, launching the bus boycott that lasted over a year. Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
  • A Raisin in the Sun opens in New York

    A Raisin in the Sun opens in New York
    Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, opens in New York. It is the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway.
  • First black performers win Grammys

    First black performers win Grammys
    Ella Fitzgerald and William “Count” Basie become the first black performers to win Grammy awards.
  • Jordan disbands His Tympany Five

    Jordan disbands Tympany Five and becomes a guest star with Debby Hayes, officially moves to Los Angeles.
  • First Compact Cassette Tape released

    First Compact Cassette Tape released
    The first Phillips Compact Cassette Tape is released. Philips also released a recorder/player in the US in November 1964. By 1966 over 250,000 recorders had been sold in the US alone and Japan soon became the major source of recorders. By 1968, 85 manufacturers had sold over 2.4 million players. By the end of the 1960s, the cassette business was worth an estimated 150 million dollars.
  • Martin Luther King delivers “I Have a Dream”

    Martin Luther King delivers “I Have a Dream”
    Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 250,000 people at the March on Washington from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed

    Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed
    President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The bill was called for by President John F. Kennedy in his civil rights speech of 1963, in which he asked for legislation "giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public—hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments", as well as "greater protection for the right to vote."
  • Jordan marries his fifth and final wife

    Jordan marries his fifth and final wife, Martha Weaver, a singer and dancer, on June 14, 1966.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated

    Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated
    Martin Luther King Jr., American clergyman and civil rights leader, was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. that evening. He was a prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was known for his use of nonviolence and civil disobedience.
  • Louis Jordan dies in Los Angeles

    Louis Jordan dies in Los Angeles
    Jordan died of a heart attack on February 4, 1975, in Los Angeles. He is buried at Mt. Olive Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, the hometown of his wife Martha.
  • Jordan inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

    Jordan inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
    Louis Jordan is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Five Guys Named Moe premieres

    Five Guys Named Moe premieres
    The musical is based on an earlier musical short of the same name by Louis Jordan from 1943. It had its UK debut in 1990 at Theatre Royal Stratford East, running for over four years in the West End, and then premiering on Broadway in 1992. The musical won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment.
  • Jordan is depicted on 42¢ stamp

    Jordan is depicted on 42¢ stamp
    American musician and film actor Louis Jordan is depicted on a 42¢ stamp (Scott 4339) issued July 16, 2008, in the Vintage Black Cinema commemorative set. The set was issued just days after Jordan’s birth centenary: He was born July 8, 1908, in Brinkley, Ark. The stamp reproduces a poster that was used to promote the 1945 short film Caldonia, which includes saxophonist and singer Jordan and his band performing the song Caldonia Boogie.