Louis Jordan was a pioneering musician of the big band era who found crossover appeal in the early stages of the emerging rock and roll era while using pop, jazz, and R&B as his baseline. The Arkansas native’s 100th birthday was this past Sunday.
Nicknamed the “King of the Jukebox,” Jordan, whose main instrument was the saxophone, was born in the town of Brinkley, studying music under his father and joining his band. After a brief stint at Arkansas Baptist College, Jordan traveled northward in the ’30s, eventually settling in New York. While there, he began playing in the Savoy Ballroom Orchestra and worked alongside the likes of the great Ella Fitzgerald.
Jordan was a dominant figure in his era and one of the most successful Black musicians of all time with at least four singles that sold a million copies apiece. Long before artists like Michael Jackson and Prince did so, Jordan, with his renowned Tympany Five bands, was a crossover artist who became popular with white audiences. He acted in films, including two built specifically around him, and also played piano and clarinet. His prolific songwriting became the foundation of today’s modern R&B.
The nickname came by way of Jordan’s hit-making abilities during his heyday in the ’40’s until 1950. In 1944, his No. 1 single “G.I. Jive” was coupled with the classic b-side “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” That song was performed in 1946 by Tom The Cat from the Tom & Jerry cartoon.
In an interview, Jordan said Rock and Roll was nothing more than R&B performed by white performers. Rock and Roll legend Chuck Berry cited Jordan as a major influence on him, and across the genre. Jordan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Jordan, who married 5 times, had no children. He passed away in February 1975 at the age 66.
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