When Stephanie Jordan wanted to make her album debut special, she remembered an inspirational performance she’d witnessed in New Orleans in 1983.
The performer was Lena Horne, a singer and actress who, during more than 60 years in show business, won three Grammy awards, appeared in 16 feature films — including the 1943 classics Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky and 1978’s The Wiz— and toured the world with her nightclub act for decades.
Shortly before Horne’s third and final New Orleans appearance, she’d won a Tony award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. The 65-year-old singer’s on-stage vigor at the Saenger Theater knocked Jordan out.
“The show had such energy,” Jordan recalled. “The band was so powerful and the arrangements were big and beautiful. And even though Lena Horne was a small woman, she seemed bigger than life.”
Through her father, Edward “Kidd” Jordan — jazz saxophonist, educator and musicians’ contractor for Horne’s Saenger concert — Jordan met the star backstage.
“I’ve met a lot of celebrities but that meeting and that performance is one that has really stayed with me,” she said.
Jordan likens Horne’s dynamism to performances by another great jazz singer of Horne’s generation, Little Jimmy Scott.
“I told him that I was a singer and he wrote an autograph and a note that said, ‘Stephanie, always sing your heart out.’ When you think about Jimmy Scott, he sings every song like it’s his final song. Lena Horne was like that, too.”
Jordan released Stephanie Jordan Sings A Tribute to the Fabulous Lena Horne last spring. Her musician family members, including her father, brothers Kent and Marlon and uncle Maynard Chatters contributed to the recording. Baton Rouge area musicians Mike Esnault, Bobby Campo and Troy Davis also played for the album.
Not all of the album’s selections are songs that Horne performed or recorded.
“It’s a tribute to Lena, but it’s definitely me, too,” Jordan said. “I wanted to sing songs that I believe she would like. She covered so much repertoire, so she probably heard every song on the record at some point.”
Jordan began doing on-stage tributes to Horne in 2008. She regrets that she didn’t complete the tribute CD prior to Horne’s death in 2010 at 92. Nonetheless, the singer is delighted with A Tribute to the Fabulous Lena Horne, a project she produced herself.
“We did some rehearsals a few days before the session, went in the studio and did it,” Jordan said. “Because we had performed the music live, we knew the charts inside and out. I thought it might be my first and last recording so, if it is, let it be terrific.”
Jordan gives pianist and arranger Esnault special credit for his work for the album.
“He has a beautiful soul and it comes out when he plays,” Jordan said. “There are times when I don’t really like to sing, but I always like to sing with him.”
The only thing missing in her CD, Jordan said, is a clarinet solo from her late uncle, longtime Southern University in Baton Rouge jazz educator Alvin Batiste.
“He left an incredible example for us to follow,” Jordan said. “He was always practicing, always searching for music, up until the day he died. I’m thrilled that I had the moments that I had to perform with him. I carry all of that with me when I’m on stage.”