Louis Jordan was the most popular African American entertainer of his day, when his comic blues, jump and novelty routines not only put his records atop the charts but also entertained movie audiences in a series of short films called “soundies.” His 18 No. 1 hits on the race and R&B charts spent a total of 113 weeks in the top slot, almost twice as many weeks as any other artist in the history of rhythm & blues, according to Joel Whitburn’s Billboard books. Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas, on July 8, 1908, and after learning clarinet and saxophone from his father he played sax in some traveling bands around Arkansas before heading to New York, where he began his recording career with the Decca label. From 1942 to 1951 he had 57 hits on the national charts, including many that influenced the likes of B.B. King, James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles, including “Caldonia,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” and “Blue Light Boogie.” Known as “King of the Juke Boxes,” he has since been variously saluted as the father of jump blues, rhythm & blues, and rock ‘n’ roll as well a forefather of rap for the rapid-fire rhyming patterns he executed. After his string of hits ran out, Jordan continued to perform and record but never again enjoyed the stature he did in the 1940s when his every exploit was newsworthy in the African American press. Jordan died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on Feb. 4, 1975.
— Jim O’Neal