Jazz Legend Sheila Jordan Forever True to Her Love


Jazz Legend and Solo Mom Sheila Jordan Stays True to Her Passion

 Charlie Parker called her the singer with a million dollar ears

Who is Sheila Jordan?

Born to a teenaged mother and raised in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town, Sheila Jordan grew to become one of the world’s greatest jazz singers—and a living legend.

Growing up in abject poverty amid familial alcoholism, bouncing from home to home, and facing all forms of abandonment and abuse, Jordan still managed to love those who loved her to the best of their abilities. Her innate optimism and whimsical spirit would carry her through the toughest of times.

Jordan meets her musical mentor, Charlie Parker

It was her high-school music teacher who changed Jordan’s life, spying her gift of voice and encouraging her to sing in the school musical. Her newfound confidence served her well after her alcoholic mother whisked her away to Detroit, where Jordan discovered bebop; met her musical mentor, Charlie Parker; and discovered her reason for being: jazz, through which Jordan found the strength and will to survive.

In her Detroit years, while still a teenager, Jordan lived the “jazz life,” sneaking into clubs, making music, and singing for Charlie Parker whenever he was in town. But as a young white woman with black friends, living in a male-dominated 1940s world, Jordan faced prejudice, scrutiny, and hostility on all fronts.

A troubled marriage and birth of a daughter

In the early ’50s, she moved to New York to be closer to Parker and his music. She married his keyboard player, Duke Jordan, and found herself facing the challenges of being in a mixed-race marriage in a still-racist New York City – married to an emotionally abusive heroin addict, who’d be gone for days with other women.

During that period, Jordan became pregnant with her daughter, Tracey. Duke left for good, and Jordan found emotional support from her mixed bag of friends—mostly artists and musicians—including Charlie Parker, who tragically passed away just a few months before Tracey’s birth.

On September 27, 1955, Jordan took a taxi to the hospital and had her baby.

A happy ending

She managed to take a job two nights a week at Page Three, a bar in Greenwich Village, while keeping her office day job and caring for her daughter. In spite of her ultimate success as a singer, Jordan held on to this office job for 30 years because she feared poverty. But she always aspired to sing full time – so it was a blessing in disguise when, at 58 years old, Jordan was laid off.

With her daughter grown, and facing financial insecurity, Jordan finally realized her dream of becoming a full-time jazz singer as well as a mentor and an educator. And with this new adventure she found happiness, friendship, a house in the woods, peace of mind, and music—lots of music.


Q: Do you realize how remarkable your story is?

A: No, I don’t.

Q: It’s an important story, especially for single moms, because many give up on their creative dreams. You didn’t. The fact that you didn’t hit your stride until your 50s is fantastic.

A: I never gave up. I always knew I would do music until I die. Whether I was going out and singing sessions, or whatever, I wasn’t thinking in terms of money or being paid or supporting myself. What’s happened since I got laid off from my job at my advertising agency at 58—I’ve done nothing but work. It’s amazing!

Q: How did you manage day to day when Tracey was a baby?

A: I had different people babysit. I only had to work half a day. I made enough to pay my rent and buy food. I just got by, but it was OK.

Q: During that time, you got a job singing.

A: I worked at the Page Three two nights a week and that kept the need to sing going. I had a lot of emotion and a lot of feelings about a lot of things. I was involved in a lot of very sick relationships. A lot of the men I was with would live with me, and I would be supporting them because they wouldn’t be paying my rent.

Q: Were they jazz musicians?

A: The only jazz musician I was involved with was Duke Jordan. But he was never there for us. I was legally married, but he was a junkie, and he needed to be anywhere he could get his fix.

I kept thinking he’d get better, but he didn’t. He would babysit for me. One day I came home and Tracey was alone. He’d gone out to get his fix. I realized this guy had been going out all the time and leaving this baby alone! Finally he just disappeared, and that was it.

Q: Are you single now?

A: Oh, God, yes! I had a couple of nice boyfriends, but the problem with me was that I was so used to the sick ones that the nice ones were boring.

I found a way to do music without losing the respect and love of my daughter. When I worked a couple nights a week, but by the time I paid the babysitter and cab fare home, I had nothing left of the money from the gig. It didn’t matter because I was able to fulfill this musical feeling, to nourish my music. And that was payment.

What I needed in my life to survive was my daughter, a roof over my head, food to eat, a few good friends, and the music.

Q: Did your status in your community shift when you became a single mom?

A: No. I was always in the jazz community, the art community, so all my friends were painters or dancers or musicians. They were all cool. I grew up in the bohemian age.

Q: Were you concerned being a solo mom would hinder your music career?

A: I never even thought about it because I was never thinking career. I did the music because I had been doing music since I was born. I had a very unhappy childhood, and the only way I got through life was through singing.

Singing is an extension of my body, my mind, my soul, what I eat, the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I sing. I never thought about it as a career—never thought about it one way or another. As long as I could sing somewhere, I was cool.

So I was shocked when I recorded—and now, getting all these incredible awards. I’m shocked! Especially since I never hounded people, “Give me a record date,” “Will you be my agent?” It just happened because I love the music.

Q: Has music helped you as a solo mom? Has being a solo mom helped your art?

A: When I recorded my first album, I did “Dat Dere” because it was so much like my daughter. She was little at the time. Even today there are very few times that I don’t include it in the set because it’s Tracey. My music is all about life; it’s all a part of it, the good and the bad, who I am. Whatever I’m living, however I’m living—sad or happy—it’s all part of it because it’s an extension of my feelings and my life.

Q: What advice would you give a someone trying to break into music?

A: Don’t give up. Don’t let anything keep you from doing the one thing you love besides your child—your child and your art. Keeping it in your life is very important. You can express your feelings through your art, and if that’s cut off, then there’s a certain part of your feelings that you aren’t able to let go . . . and that’s “stuff.”

If it’s music, go find sessions. They’ve got singers’ nights where you can sit in. Even if it means having a little house concert where you can sing and play—keep it alive.


For more information on Sheila Jordan, visit sheilajordanjazz.com and read Ellen Johnson’s biography Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014).

Watch Jordan perform, and see why Charlie Parker often introduced her as “the singer with the million dollar ears.”


What a Girl Wants…Really

Boiling down to the essence of a good man.

It’s a question on par with the meaning of life, the existence of god and the reality of time: What do women want in men?

When I asked my son, “What do you think a woman wants in a man?” he responded, “Someone who owns a chainsaw; who doesn’t drink out of a straw; and who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent .”

Polling my girlfriends, I determined he’s mostly correct.

We confuse you. We confound you. Yet with one kiss you have the power to fluster us with teenaged butterflies and make our hearts soar. So we keep coming back, searching and hoping … and you keep wondering what in the world we want.

We want a tree.

At the age of 13, I knew exactly what I wanted in a man. I made a list in my Jan Brady diary, whilst lolling on my bed, radio tuned to KIIS FM. I knew the color of your hair, your eyes, the sort of music you played on your Gibson guitar, your preferred surfboard and the exact make of your car: shallow, schoolgirl ideas as frivolous as the leaves on a tree that flit to the ground each autumn.

In college, my list shifted to your career goals, hobbies, friends, political affiliation, the movies you liked, the books you read, common interests … These were your branches; the trunk that held you up, that would hold me as well. But trunks can split and crack and be cut down. Branches are just that—mere offshoots that sprout and grow from who you really are. I’d yet to determine who that was; what I really wanted.

In the life of a tree, leaves die and blow away, trunks sway, bend and even break, but it’s the roots that dig deep and grow where they are planted. It is the roots that hold up the tree that will shelter me from storms, shade me from sun, hold a swing for our children and give me flowers in the spring. (I’m a girl. I like flowers.)

Humor trumps possessions.
Ambition trumps wealth.
Honor trumps success.
Authenticity trumps fame.
Integrity and kindness trump all else.
And a gentleman is a gentleman is a gentleman.

Meet me at my level through the chaos of a day. Sit with me on the porch at twilight. Connect. Be there. Then be brave and stay there—because women want a strong man, not a tough man. Revere us. Cherish us. Love us. Don’t steal our hearts. Win our hearts.

Be the man I can respect and I will be a better person.
Be the better person, so I can look up to you.
And I will rise up to meet you.
Up at the top of that tree …
with butterflies.

E.G. Daily: A Winning Voice

Image via s_bukley / Shutterstock.com

E.G. Daily, voice of Rugrats’ Tommy Pickles and participant on The Voice, shares her optimistic approach to work and solo parenting

E.G. Daily has starred in movies, topped the charts as a singer/songwriter, is the voice of Tommy Pickles from Rugrats, and has voiced other notable characters. In 2013, Daily sauntered onto the stage of The Voice and blew everyone away with her rendition of “Breathe,” joining Team Blake after the performance. Yet Daily’s greatest success is solo-mothering daughters Hunter (19) and Tyson (16). Seriously, how many kids can say their mom is a Powerpuff Girl?

Which career came first—singing or acting?

It’s really one career with all sorts of tentacles. It all goes back to my voice.

When I was young I’d make up pretend voices. And I loved to sing. I taught myself how to play the guitar so I could sing and write songs. I starred in the school musicals. Then right after high school, I started booking movies.

But no matter what I was doing, I was singing and developing my voice. My voice had been so developed as a singer, and my acting so developed as an actor, that the voice-over made sense. It contorted everything together into animation, radio, TV, and commercials.

How did you land in the voice-over business?

I was doing a musical about female wrestlers. The play involved my character’s voice at different ages. Jeff Danis saw me at a performance and told me I should pursue voice-over. He’s still my agent to this day.

But I did not do the play for any reason other than I wanted to be singing. My motives were clean. And I ended up getting all these accolades, getting a record deal, breaking into voice-over. All these great things happened because I did something solely because I loved it. I talk about this in my seminars.

When and how did you become a Solo Mom?

I always had a feeling I would be a single mom. There was too much pressure to meet guys. At 32 I decided to do it myself. I made the plan with my doctor. The pressure was off. Then I went to a barbecue, met this guy, and five weeks later got married in Vegas. I got knocked up on my wedding night. Completely unplanned!

I loved him. We had two kids. But he had a problem with drugs—so I ultimately left him. I knew it wasn’t healthy for the kids and me. Years later he got sober, and over time we learned to care about each other. Now he’s my best friend. It was painful at first, but I feel blessed that I got way more from the universe than I’d asked.

How did you manage being in a creative field while solo parenting?

I could do voice-over and bring the babies with me. I literally nursed while I was working. If I was working remotely, I could have a baby on the boob and they never knew. I did not sacrifice anything to take care of my kids.

Was there a defining moment that drove home you were raising kids alone?

My youngest had baby asthma. I’d have to grab both babies, throw them in the car, and rush to the hospital. I cried all the time because I never slept. I’d have one baby on the boob and the other on a nebulizer, and I would move my arms around like an octopus, grabbing this and that. That’s when I decided to ask for help. My family was amazing. If I had $80, I’d hire someone. Peace at any cost.

Can you recommend resources for women trying to break into voice-over or music?

My voice-over seminar is great and teaches a spiritual approach. As for singing, if you love it, sing! Take lessons. Do open mics. Bigger things will start happening.

What are you most proud of as a Solo Mom?

I’m proud of the work I’ve done on myself so I could be the parent I wanted for my girls. I didn’t follow the pattern and I think my kids are amazing because of it. I taught them to believe that if life alters things, it’s for the better. It’s not happening to you, it’s happening for you. There are no rules—it’s only what is beautiful and fantastic. Having a miserable married couple as parents is not fantastic, as opposed to pure mama love. I want my kids to not just tolerate—but to lean into all joy.

What’s your favorite single-parenting tip?

Write little notes with beautiful affirmations. Color them up and sparkle them out and put them in their lunch box and backpacks. “You’re beautiful.” “You are magical.” “You are everything I could have ever dreamed I’d want for a kid.”

Music-Publishing Powerhouse, Wende Crowley, Talks About Her Experience in the Industry

Photo Credit: Wende Crowley

Kathleen Laccinole interviews Wende Crowley, Senior Vice President of Film and TV at Sony/ATV Music, about being a Solo Mom in the music business

Music-publishing powerhouse, Wende Crowley works at Sony/ATV Music—the company that controls copyrights for more than two million of our favorite songs by artists such as The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Lady Gaga, to name a few. She is a Solo Mom with the dream job of music supervisor—the person who places pop music in film, television, and video games. Her credits include Annie, Easy A, Freaks and Geeks, and Arrested Development, among others.

Q: How did you get into the music business?

A: I drove cross-country from Boston to Los Angeles two days after graduating college to do an internship at Sony Records. After my internship ended, I got a job working in promotions and marketing for Nederlander Concerts and the Greek Theatre—but my dream was to become a music supervisor. There was an ad in the Hollywood Reporter as an assistant to a music supervisor. I applied and actually got the job!

Q: When and how did you become a Solo Mom?

A: I became a single mom in 2010. My ex and I decided it was time to end the marriage, but, luckily, we have remained great friends and coparents.

Q: Did being a Solo Mom impact your career in the music business?

A: Time management became a challenge. I became aware of how precious my time is with my son. It’s a constant balancing act between work and family life.

Q: How do you manage?

A: I evaluate and separate the work events I have to attend and plan accordingly. If there is something I can’t miss because we’re dealing with a big client or signing, my ex will usually help cover for me—and I do the same for him. We accommodate each other’s schedules, and we are very flexible when one of us needs coverage. I realize how rare this can be in divorce, and I am grateful for it.

Q: When your status shifted from being married to being a Solo Mom, did you feel a shift in your community?

A: No. If anything, I felt a lot of love and support from everyone. Luckily, no friends were lost in this divorce(!), although I definitely find myself seeking out other single moms or just mom friends in general. I’m always trying to pull my friends together to do things with the kids—trying to expand the circle. More people to love in your life is always a good thing.

Q: Are there specific resources that help you?

A: Having friends with kids helps. Build your network of moms, and help each other. You’ll make close friendships and so will your kids. Working in the music business means nights out from time to time. There is no way around it, so get your support system in place. There are a lot of moms in the music business. Find them!

Q: Has being a Solo Mom posed any sort of detriment to furthering your career?

A: In between the time I’ve become a single mom and now, I’ve been promoted twice, so I can say with certainly that it hasn’t held me back from furthering my career, and because I have a great relationship with my ex, he’s willing to help out if it’s “my night” and I have an important work event I need to attend. I do the same for him. We both love the extra time we get with our son, so if covering each other means we get extra time, we always take it.

Q: Was there a defining moment when you realized you were a Solo Mom?

A: My son was with his dad, and it was one of my first nights after my ex moved out. I pulled up to my house, and it was empty and dark. I sat in the driveway feeling so alone. I’ve never felt lonely as a parent, but in that moment, I felt alone as a person realizing that I was thirtysomething and single again. The feeling stunned me with deep sadness. I remember not wanting to go into the house. I think right after that I decided to throw a big party to fill up the house with people and happiness. I’ve come a long way from that night, and I can say it does get better.

Q: What are you most proud of as a Solo Mom?

A: I’m proud of how my relationship with my son only grew stronger out of this experience. Since I only have him half of the time, when I’m with him, I’m fully with him. We have more quality time, and hanging out with him is my favorite thing.

Q: What is one of your favorite single-parenting tips?

A: Sleepovers! And put your damn phone away, and be present!


Dreams Reimagined

A single mother contends with saying goodbye to her college-bound child.

Originally published September 2016 Ventura BLVD Magazine
Written by Kathleen Laccinole | Illustrated by Christine Georgiades

My marriage was spent dreaming of a baby—my perfect, nuclear family. I painted a buttery-yellow nursery, added crystal pulls to my childhood dresser, stenciled the rocking chair where I would breast-feed my child. If you build it, she will come … She didn’t.

After seven years of infertility treatments, I got pregnant.

Then came nine months of misery. Not the fairy tale “let’s do yoga and photo shoots with my magnificent belly” pregnancy. Instead, I got three trimesters of rampant vomiting; wore the same cheap dress every day; and showered maybe twice.
When overly ripe with child, despondent and wretched, my mother told me, “I know you want her out now, but in three months you’ll want to shove her back in.”

Mom was right: My fantasy baby was born with colic; my marriage fell apart, as did my life.

Three became two and my dreams shifted to new ones. Now I imagined all the things we would do together; what I would become as a mother, a woman, a writer—my daughter by my side.

The next year, I dipped my toe back into the dating pool. Nine months later my son arrived. (It happens.) Two again became three—thousands of miles, stratospheres from the life I’d envisioned.

My daughter excelled in school, music, and life in general. Still, at home it felt like her colic lasted well into her 16th year. And since I could not “shove her back in,” I began to quietly entertain the idea of her leaving for college. But I blinked, she turned 18, and somewhere along the way we’d become friends. We shopped, talked about boys, got mani-pedis. Then POOF! She was accepted to USC. And so began the countdown …

I started looking backwards, at all the things we hadn’t done: road trips, Ireland, Africa. I never French-braided her hair, made chocolate chip pancakes, pierced her ears. I never met Mr. Right. She never saw me in love, wouldn’t be the flower girl at my wedding. She deserved better. But does life ever turn out the way we envision in 10-year-old dreams? My emotions are fractured. I try to rein in scattered merry-go-round ponies, search for hidden answers in sock drawers. If college is a good thing, why do I feel so bad? Suddenly, every moment is precious. I hold on tight. And when she’s cranky, I endure because the stomping feet will leave a ghostly silence in a few short weeks. Three will become two … then eventually one. I resist the urge to buy a cat—or seven.

I shift my focus to what we did do: our non-nuclear life—biking in Paris, cooking classes in Barcelona, watching a Rolling Stones concert from the rooftop of our hotel in Rome.
We made magic.

I feel a tingly excitement for my daughter and all she will become. I worry about what can go wrong and long for what can go right. And when I drop her off at the collegiate city that holds the next phase of her magnificent life, I will drive away, lumpy throat, like yesterday’s first day of kindergarten.

Still, I will always be her mother. And like I endured childbirth, I will endure this. It might require corpulent Netflix viewing, extra martinis, and yes—God forbid—a cat.

Because no matter how hard it hurt to push that baby out, this will hurt more.
But I will survive.
Like my mom did.
And her mother before.
Because my mom says I will.
And Mom is always right.

Kathleen Laccinole is a freelance writer and regular contributor to ESME.com. She resides in Sherman Oaks with her son—and so far—no cat.

(First published in Ventura Boulevard Magazine, September, 2016)