Richard Jordan Haydel was born on May 31, 1927, in Helena, Arkansas. The 1930 census recorded that Victor Jordan Haydel (father, age 37), Mary Case Haydel (mother, age 32), Victor Jordan Haydel, Jr. (son, age 15), Richard Jordan Haydel (son, age 2 10/12), and Louis Case Haydel (son, age 5/12) were living at 410 Waverlywood Drive in West Helena, Arkansas, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The 1940 census recorded that Mary Case Haydel was living on North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles with her sons, Richard and Louis. Child actors like Mickey Rooney were role models for many aspiring young boys and Mary Case encouraged young Richard in this regard. His first name was shortened to Rickey and his middle name, Jordan, was adopted as his last name, more appropriate than Haydel for the movies. Rickey’s first small role was as “Butch” in the Marx Brothers The Big Store (M-G-M, 1941). His next role was in Born To Sing (M-G-M, 1942). Richard played “Beany” in Paramount Pictures, Henry Aldrich, Boy Scout, a 1944 release that was the ninth in a series of films that chronicled the Aldrich family and their son, Henry, played by Jimmy Lydon. Richard was back at M-G-M Studios in 1944 where he played a “schoolboy” in National Velvet. All of Richard’s film appearances were brief, measured in seconds, within a scene.
Rickey augmented his resume in the mid 1940’s when he enrolled in studies with the Rex Studios Popular Piano and Vocal program. He was hired by NBC in 1945 as a page boy and continued his movie identity, Rickey Jordan, for the air-waves. His vocal talent reached America’s ears when he was offered a chance to sing on a segment of the NBC radio situation comedy, Duffy’s Tavern. Rickey registered with the Selective Service shortly after his 18th birthday. The registration card showed him living with his mother at 3753 Jasmine Avenue, Los Angeles 34, California.
Rickey was part of the entertainment troupe of the Salute To Victory Treasury Bond show at the Van Nuys High School auditorium on December 7, 1945. The local paper billed Rickey as the show’s feature “for the ladies” and the year’s most sensational singing discovery. Rickey was in the headlines when the show played the Fox Theater in Pomona singing “Night and Day” – “Stormy Weather” – and an unrehearsed encore, a coon-shoutin’ blues.
Rickey appeared on the Jubilee program at NBC Studios in Hollywood in May along with the Earl Hines Orchestra, the Les Paul Trio, and the Town Criers for the Armed Forces Radio Service. He sang “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” accompanied by the Bill Wardell piano trio. Later that month he appeared on the Ginny Simms air show where the applause meter registered the biggest reaction ever recorded on the program. RKO Radio signed Rickey to a term contract. Down Beat billed Rickey as a “male edition of the late Bessie Smith.”
Platter Chatter was a Seattle based music magazine that tried to gain a foothold in the music industry that was dominated by Metronome and Down Beat. The July 1946 edition of Platter Chatter repeated the Ginny Simms show applause record, and noted that Jordan’s contract at RKO promised top roles in the studio’s future musicals. “Ranked by entertainment experts as one of the most sensational singing discoveries in years, young Jordan is said to combine the showmanship of Al Jolson, the feeling of Sophie Tucker and the styling of Bessie Smith in his interpretation of deep-South jazz.”
Rickey was booked for the summer season at Club Catalina in Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, twenty-five miles off the Los Angeles coast, and a two-hour ferry ride from the harbor at San Pedro aboard the S. S. Catalina. Rickey was backed by the Vivien Garry Trio with Vivien on bass, her husband, Arv Garrison on guitar, and Wini Beatty on piano. The Garry trio had recently finished an extended engagement at the Club Morocco in Hollywood. They backed Jordan for six weeks before returning to the mainland. The Rickey Jordan/Vivien Garry Trio engagement was chronicled by Jacob Bernstien [sic] in Platter Chatter.
“I found the lavish two-million dollar Casino did not furnish the Jazz I was looking for as Jimmy Grier, Leighton Noble and Carlos Molina held down the musical chores this season. Pre-war policy of the Casino featured the bands of Benny Goodman, the old Bob Crosby crew, Ted Weems, (vocals by a lad named Como), Buddy Rogers, Dick Jurgens, Kay Kayser and other names.
I arrived at the Club Catalina and to my great pleasure the Vivien Garry Trio with Rickey Jordan’s blues singing was packing the house. Sparked by Arv Garrison’s guitar-work the trio was “jumping.” Arv, in my opinion, is playing the best guitar in Southern California today. Rickey Jordan was stealing the show with his slightly off-color treatments of “Hey-bob-o-re-bop,” “Around The Clock,” “Lady In Bed,” etc. He is a great admirer of Joe Turner and Frankie Laine and proves it when singing the blues.”
RKO scheduled a screen test for Rickey in their upcoming production, Beat The Band, with Frances Langford, Ralph Edwards, Phillip Terry, and the Gene Krupa Band. Rickey was nervous about his first speaking role on screen and rose early to prepare his lines. He skipped breakfast and arrived at the studio well before the scheduled time. His screen test was delayed several hours and by the time he was called the decision to skip breakfast was fatal as he fainted before the camera. After he recovered the test went well. The sensational young singer did not have a singing role in the movie.
Leonard Feather was instrumental in launching Vivien Garry’s and Arv Garrison’s career. The pair’s first commercial recordings on the Guild label followed a rave review written by Feather for Esquire magazine where he lauded the trio’s performances with Teddy Kaye on piano at Kelly’s Stable on 52nd Street as the most important three-piece group to emerge since the King Cole Trio. Leonard Feather was spending time on both coasts in 1946 and once again had a hand in the pair’s recording sessions.
Vivien’s autobiography, The Blues in “B” Flat, credits Leonard Feather as arranging Rickey Jordan’s recording session for Leon Rene’s Exclusive Records. “When we got back to the mainland, Leonard Feather lined up a recording date for Rickey Jordan on Exclusive Records and we backed him as we did on the island. He had written “Blues in the Storm” which we did along with several originals by Rickey.” The October 28, 1946, recording session at Radio Recorders captured six tunes on three 78 singles, Rickey’s recording legacy. The contract listed Vivien Garry, leader, bass; Wini Beatty, piano; Les Robinson, alto saxophone; Arv Garrison, guitar; Teddy Buckner, trumpet; Lucky Thompson, tenor saxophone; and Edward hall, drums. Rickey Jordan’s Exclusive singles included: “A.B.C. Blues” and “Blues in the Storm” on Exclusive 235, “Rickey’s Blues” and “Night and Day” on Exclusive 237, and “Stormy Weather” and “Drop Dead” on Exclusive 248.
The Vivien Garry Trio continued to back Rickey Jordan when he had a December booking at Tabu of Hollywood. The trio and Rickey were guests on Gene Norman’s Mild and Mellow program on KMPC radio to announce their opening at the restaurant. Rickey sang “Blues In The Storm” following the trio’s performance of “Mop Mop” – a Leonard Feather original.
Rickey grabbed a headline in the December 16, 1946 edition of Down Beat. “Rickey Nabs Show – Hollywood – Rickey Jordan, the young blues singer who has been attracting much attention here in niteries and radio guest shots, goes into the new Earl Carroll show opening Christmas night. Kid, who is just past 18, was pulled out of nitery work by state law barring minors from working in booze dispenseries. Carroll spot serves in restaurant portion but is rated a theater.”
The Los Angeles Times published a run-down of the complete company cast in the December 25, 1946, evening edition. “Carroll Will Preview His New Revue Tonight – A special preview for the public will be held tonight of Earl Carroll’s new revue, Vanities. The world premiere will be given next Friday evening. Heading the cast will be Beryl Wallace, singing and dancing star; Bobby Morris, comedian; Billy Rayes, master of ceremonies; the Costello Twins, dancing team; Jean Richey, roller-skating artist; Jimmy Nolan and Rickey Jordan, vocalists; the Lovely Ladies, singing trio; Dardy Moffett, comediene; the Carrolliers, male choral group; and the St. Pasida Dancers.
Rickey and the Vivien Garry Trio made headlines again in Platter Chatter when they were noted as having performed at a pre-game rally at Memorial Coliseum prior to a football match between the USC Trojans and the team from Washington State. “With Rickey’s great singing and Viv’s wonderful beat it’s no wonder that the Trojans finally managed to win their first game this season.”
Rickey’s Exclusive singles received decent reviews in The Billboard, Cash Box, Metronome and Down Beat, but the recorded Jordan did not capture the singer’s essence that captivated reviewers experiencing his live performances. Rickey continued to work the Earl Carroll Theater. His photo with roller-skater Jean Richey made the pages of the Daily News again in October. Jordan also scored gigs at a host of Los Angeles niteries like Billy Berg’s. The Daily News noted that he was performing at Bob Lewis’ Carnival Room with Wini Beatty in November of 1947.
Rickey returned to Jubilee in January of 1948 when his performance was captured at the McCormack General Hospital in Pasadena. The program featured Keith Williams and his College Cats; Jean Taylor backed by Stan Hasselgard, Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Harry Babasin, and Jackie Mills; and Rickey Jordan backed by the Jackie Mills group without Hasselgard. Rickey sang “Rickey’s Blues” and “Depending Blues” on the program.
Earl Carroll introduced a new edition of Vanities for 1948. Rickey Jordan received top billing in the show that was reviewed in Down Beat. “Rickey Jordan’s brand of “scat” singing didn’t seem to enchant the feathers-fanciers, but we thought he showed a remarkable taste and talent for his material. Rhythmically he was strictly in the groove, and we can see him set off to better advantage in more intimate quarters.”
Jordan honed his vocal delivery during the balance of the year with nightclub appearances in Hollywood in addition to his duties at Earl Carroll’s shows. Jordan was part of the Christmas special at The Casbah, 8401 South Figueroa, that headlined Kay Starr backed by the Dave Cavanaugh Orchestra, and Rickey Jordan backed by Don Swan’s Orchestra.
Rickey spent eighteen weeks at Ciro’s in San Francisco at the beginning of 1949. His next appearance was at the Crown Room in Kansas City where a spring engagement was extended into the fall. He opened at the Lord Baltimore in St. Louis on Thursday, September 22, 1949, where he headlined the nightspot with three shows nightly. The engagement continued through the weekend with performances on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th. He failed to appear on Monday and Tuesday. He was still not feeling well on Wednesday evening where he remained in the hotel and told his bride of a week to catch a movie while he rested in their hotel room. When she returned to the hotel she found him unconscious on the floor of the bathroom. The coroner registered the cause of death to acute respiratory infection.
Richard Jordan Haydel was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetary, Hilldale Plot, in Inglewood, Los Angeles County, California. His mother was buried in the same plot when she passed away in 1965.