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Martha Jordan

Martha Jordan was born on January 22, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri. Jordan was adopted as a baby by Dr. Chalmers Weaver, a local dentist and his wife, Eliza. Jordan attended Simmons Elementary School, and because of her love for music, Jordan took tap and ballet classes as well as piano lessons. Jordan then attended Charles H. Sumner High School where she danced in the Y Circus, a type of music revue that featured popular musicians of that time; she graduated in 1943, at age sixteen.

Jordan promised her parents that she would go to college if they allowed her to work at the Plantation Club in St. Louis as a dancer for one year. When that year ended, she did not attend college, and instead went to Chicago with show producer-dancer Hortense Allen Jordan to work at the Rhumboogie Club as a chorus girl. Jordan performed with the chorus line for shows that featured Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Pearl Bailey, who was one of her good friends. Jordan appeared in one of the first all African American shows in Las Vegas at the Dunes Hotel: Smart Affairs , produced by Larry Steele.

In the early 1960s, Jordan moved to Los Angeles during the decline in popularity of chorus line shows; there she took a real estate course and received her broker’s license. At this time, Jordan became engaged to music great, Louis Jordan, and they married in 1966. Louis Jordan was famous for his recorded hits, Let the Good Times Roll and Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby. Jordan traveled and sang with the Louis Jordan Band and took care of the finances. Jordan stopped touring in the early 1970s and began working as an office manager for a Santa Monica elementary school. Louis Jordan passed away in 1975, and in 1980, Jordan moved to Las Vegas where she worked for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department as a records technician. She then retired in 1990.

Jordan served as president of the Las Vegas Chapter of Links, Inc.; a member of the Girl Friends, Inc.; and founder and CEO of the Louie Jordan Commemorative Scholarship Foundation.

Jordan passed away on May 28, 2016 at age 89.

Accession Number

A2007.126

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/6/2007

Last Name

Jordan

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Charles H. Sumner High School

Simmons Elementary School

Saint Louis University

First Name

Martha

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

JOR04

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Missouri

Favorite Vacation Destination

Greek Islands

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Interview Description
Birth Date

1/22/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Soul Food

Death Date

5/28/2016

Short Description

Entertainer and dancer Martha Jordan (1927 - 2016 ) appeared in one of the first all African American shows in Las Vegas, Smart Affairs, produced by Larry Steele, and was the founder and CEO of the Louie Jordan Commemorative Scholarship Fund. Jordan worked as a backup chorus dancer for music legends such as Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Pearl Bailey, in addition to touring with her husband, Louis Jordan.

Employment

Plantation Club

Rhumboogie Cafe

Dunes Hotel

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Martha Jordan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Martha Jordan lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Martha Jordan describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Martha Jordan describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Martha Jordan describes her parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Martha Jordan describes her community in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Martha Jordan remembers performing with the Y Circus in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Martha Jordan recalls her early education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Martha Jordan describes her early interest in music and dance

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Martha Jordan remembers her childhood friends

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Martha Jordan describes her extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Martha Jordan talks about her adoption, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Martha Jordan talks about her adoption, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Martha Jordan recalls breaking the dress code at Charles H. Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Martha Jordan remembers he popular musicians from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Martha Jordan talks about her family reunions

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Martha Jordan remembers performing for soldiers during World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Martha Jordan describes her decision to pursue a career in show business

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Martha Jordan describes her early dancing career

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Martha Jordan describes the culture of show business

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Martha Jordan describes her experiences as a chorus girl, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Martha Jordan describes her experiences as a chorus girl, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Martha Jordan talks about African American owned clubs and theater productions

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Martha Jordan describes her dancing career in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Martha Jordan describes her dancing and real estate career in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Martha Jordan describes the racial discrimination in the entertainment industry

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Martha Jordan describes her marriage to Louis Jordan

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Martha Jordan talks about Louis Jordan's singing career

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Martha Jordan describes her travel experiences

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Martha Jordan remembers her colleagues in show business, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Martha Jordan remembers her colleagues in show business, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Martha Jordan remembers her colleagues in show business, pt. 3

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Martha Jordan describes her career in Los Angeles, California and Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Martha Jordan describes her organizational involvement

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Martha Jordan talks about her autobiography, 'The Debutante That Went Astray'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Martha Jordan reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Martha Jordan describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Martha Jordan narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

1$3

DATitle
Martha Jordan describes her experiences as a chorus girl, pt. 1
Martha Jordan remembers her colleagues in show business, pt. 2
Transcript
Now, tell me what it's like to, to be a chorus girl.$$To be a chorus girl. Well, you know, at sixteen, it's altogether different than it would be now. But then, it was very, very exciting because you get the chance at the time--I got a chance to travel around the world. I got--well not actually around the world, around the United States. I got a chance--well, I'm a flighty sixteen and I got a chance to meet people, you know. You get to be flighty and, like I said, and I got to meet celebrities and that was my big thing. So when I first went, I went with Hortense [Hortense Allen Jordan] and she--and we worked the Plantation [Plantation Club; Palladium] in St. Louis [Missouri]. From there, we went to Chicago [Illinois]. Well, Charlie Glenn owned the Rhumboogie [Rhumboogie Cafe] in Chicago, which is a black owned club. The Plantation was really all white. Nat Cole [Nat King Cole] was one that we worked with at the Plantation in St. Louis. It was owned--really owned by the mafia 'cause all the guys, Tony [Tony Scarpelli] and all of them, all the bosses were mafia, but you knew this and nobody bothered you and you did not socialize at all, thank goodness. I mean, you were not--you know, you--it was not permitted and all this, which was good because we didn't want to anyhow because they were all Caucasians and we, you know, couldn't go out and--well, you couldn't go out and socialize for the simple reason you didn't have anybody because it was a white club. It was in St. Louis. But when I left there, we rehearsed--in the Plantation, we did three shows a night and, and when we left there and we went to the Rhumboogie which we only did two shows a night, so a much easier job. As a chorus girl, usually if you're in a club and if you're gonna stay in a club for a while just like, say the Rhumboogie and you're gonna be there for like--he hired the whole chorus line so that meant--the chorus line is the backbone of a show. Like, you have celebrities that come in, but you change your celebrities. Your chorus line, you usually do a show a good month without changing, so that means that we have, okay, we're doing three numbers. While we're doing those three numbers before the month is out, we will have to rehearse. And we were working at night, so we will rehearse during the day to learn the new show which you're doing three numbers in the new show, so it is not an easy--it's not--it's not all what it is cut out to be that you don't work. You're working very hard. You're working at night and you're tired and you're facing--you got to be on that stage and you have to be perppy [ph.] and looking good and frisky and smiling and all this. Now, we have nothing to do with the costumes. We have a costumer. Most of the shows have costumers that they get. Any show that you're on, they usually have a costume person. And they come in and they--the producer that you're working for does the show, they'll teach you the routines if--okay, say for instance, we had Larry Steele who was not a dancer, he had Hortense Allen who took us into the Plantation and also the Rhumboogie. Hortense was a dancer and a producer, but she worked with Larry and Ziggy [Joe "Ziggy" Johnson] in the Rhumboogie when we first went in the Rhumboogie. Ziggy was the producer and an emcee, but Hortense was a predominant dancer, but they worked together as a team to teach us the routines for the show. It might be Ziggy's idea that he wanted to do a Christmas show. Okay, Hortense might put some of the steps and things to the different numbers. He has a designer in Chicago at the Rhumboogie who does the costumes. They'll do costumes for these--we have three--a set of three costumes for this show. While we're rehearsing for the new show, she's making costumes for that new show. So when the new show comes in, we--we'll rehearse--okay, say for, for instance, to make it kind of easy, we rehearse about--all of us our professionals, so we rehearse about two weeks for the new show. So, we're learning three numbers in two weeks. That's just about it. So, you're rehearsing two weeks out of that month plus you're doing your show at night. That's the hardest time really is when you're working at night and rehearsing in the day. And we'll rehearse like about--usually you rehearse at least two to three hours a day. You do not rehearse on weekends. They finally said no weekends, thank goodness. But you do--so you have that, that free. But most of the shows, you do rehearse especially when you're in a club.$And what about--you worked with Louis Armstrong or Ethel Waters?$$I worked with Ethel in the Club Baron, one--a club I worked in New York [New York] when I first got in. And, boy, she was--she was--Ethel was--she was a singer, but you couldn't do too much around her to distract anything. That's--really, she would go off on you if you did. But we'd be in the line, if you're putting your feet, messing your feet too much, she would--we'd sway and, but if you mess your feet too much, Ethel would wanna come down and lay you out and all, but she was nice people to work with. She was okay, she really was.$$And what about Louis Armstrong?$$Oh, that was my bud. We had an affair and he was really great people, he really was. He's one of the nicest men in the world, really. Pops was just great. He was--he never changed. Now, he married women that changed and I used to say, "Pops, you got women that--you got some wives that they, they, they--your talent went to their heads," which they did 'cause he was very down to earth, very regular, and would treat everybody equal. But he had some--a couple of wives that though they were better than everybody, which was not true 'cause they were all ex-chorus girls and they were ridiculous. But, Pops was great. I know my mother [Jordan's adoptive mother, Eliza Stone Weaver] was very sick once and he sent her a, a dozen of the prettiest red roses I had ever seen in my life. And the pe- the women at the, at, at the hospital flipped because they knew it was from Louis Armstrong, you know. 'Cause they kept asking about, "Is that your son?" "No, hell no (laughter)," unh-uh.$$Well, you, you talked about Sammy Davis [Sammy Davis, Jr.], but did you know much about the, the Rat Pack, about--$$No (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) None, so you didn't know--$$No. I was around Sammy--$$--Jerry Lewis?$$I was around Sammy, but--I met Sinatra [Frank Sinatra] once, but I never--I never was around them, unh-uh.$$What about Jerry Lewis?$$Hm?$$Jerry Lewis.$$Jerry Lewis, I, I met him once.$$Okay.$$I just met him with Louis [Louis Jordan] once and I had a picture made with him, but that's it.$$Okay. So, I mean, you worked with so many wonderful talents, Sarah Vaughan?$$One of my greatest friends, one of my greatest friends. I adored her and we adored each other. Sassy was just--she's beautiful people. We met years ago before she got to be the great Miss Vaughan and we remained friends until she died, actually. I mean, she was just--she was a sweetheart. And so many people didn't realize, the woman had a heart of gold. And they used to say, "Oh, she's so ugly," but she wasn't. To me, she was beautiful 'cause she was just that sweet. But, you know, a lot of people--you'd be--you have to see through it and, well her voice. Let's not even discuss that (laughter). I won't even go into that, so, really 'cause she had a voice and a range that I don't think anybody can copy. But Sassy was so down, it was just something else.