He was the King of the Jukebox. One of the first black artists to achieve crossover success. He was a band-leader. Songwriter. Multi-Instrumentalist. Killer dancer. He starred in shorts and feature films alike. He was a titan, and his name was Louis Jordan.
He rose from a sax player’s seat in Harlem, to band leader, to wild commercial success. In the 1940’s, at the peak of his career, Jordan could rake in twenty thousand dollars a week. A hell of a lot of dough now…imagine what’d be worth then. Swing. Calypso. Jump Blues. Louis Jordan could do it all.
See…Louis Jordan had everything. Ambition. Talent. And charisma. So much of it that he set the blueprint for the greatest triple-threat in modern music. James Brown.
Well Louis Jordan was someone that could he’s like a triple threat- pass, run, and kick, choreograph, he act, he arranged it, he sang it and he played it. He was everything he was a one man show, and he kicked his legs high he did everything, he had more energy than everybody. Out of five people, and nobody can beat him.
Louis Jordan, born July 8, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas. Dubbed “King of the Jukebox,” and #59 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Artists of All Time, Jordan was a popular musician, songwriter and bandleader. He played all forms of Saxophone, with an emphasis on Alto, as well as piano and clarinet. Also an actor, and a major personality, he starred in numerous “soundies,” made many cameos, and had two feature films written expressly for him. Despite the fact that the peak of his recording career, 1942-1950, was a period of broadcast segregation, Jordan became one of the first black recording artists to achieve crossover success. Billboard Magazine charts him as the #5 most successful black recording artist of all time.
Jordan began his career in Swing and Big Band music alongside the young Ella Fitzgerald in Harlem’s Savoy Orchestra, before splitting off to lead his own band. He went on to develop and popularize the genre of Jump Blues—a hybrid of jazz, blues, and boogie woogie known for syncopated vocals and story-telling, comedic lyrics. Notably, his Tympany Five band pioneered the use of the electric organ. Over the course of his long career, Jordan released dozens and dozens of hit songs, such as “Caldonia”, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Rock around the Clock,” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” The latter is notable for being one of the first popular songs to use the term “rockin’”—formerly a black slang term for sex—and to feature a distorted electric guitar. As such Jordan is often credited with laying the groundwork for the genre that would become known as rock n’ roll.
While Jordan wrote the majority of the songs he performed, he never truly benefited from them financially. Many of his own biggest hits were credited to his then-wife as a means of avoiding contractual arrangements. Unfortunately, their marriage was tumultuous, short-lived and fraught with domestic violence. Fleecie, Jordan’s wife, actually stabbed him a number of times, nearly killing him the second time. Even so, Fleecie retained ownership of the songs after their divorce.
Louis Jordan’s career began to lag in the late fifties, and though he attempted comebacks in the 60s and early 70s he never reached the stratosphere of fame he’d gained in his youth. Jordan died in Los Angeles in February 4, 1975 of heart complications.
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