Sheila Jeanette Dawson, 18 November 1928, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Raised in poverty in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country, Jordan began singing as a child and by the time she was in her early teens was working semi-professionally in Detroit clubs. Her first great influence was Charlie Parker and, indeed, most of her influences have been instrumentalists rather than singers.
Working chiefly with black musicians, she met with disapproval from the white community but persisted with her career. She was a member of a vocal trio, Skeeter, Mitch And Jean (she was Jean), who sang versions of Parker’s solos in a manner akin to that of the later Lambert, Hendricks And Ross. After moving to New York in the early 50s, she married Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan, and studied with Charles Mingus and Lennie Tristano, but it was not until the early 60s that she made her first recordings.
One of these was under her own name, the other was The Outer View with George Russell, which featured a famous 10-minute version of You Are My Sunshine. In the mid-60s her work encompassed jazz liturgies sung in churches and extensive club work, but her appeal was narrow even within the confines of jazz.
By the late 70s jazz audiences had begun to understand her uncompromising style a little more and her popularity increased - as did her appearances on record, which included albums with pianist Steve Kuhn, whose quartet she joined, and an album, Home, comprising a selection of Robert Creeley’s poems set to music and arranged by Steve Swallow.