From humble beginnings to painstaking struggles and ultimately heroic triumphs, the jazz life of Sheila Jordan could inspire an epic play with a challenging lead to cast. Blessed with a haunting voice that is at once innocent and worldly, the animated jazz legend nicknamed Lady Bird shares the same birthday as Mickey Mouse. Sheila Jeanette Dawson was born on November 18, 1928 in Detroit to unwed teenagers. As a toddler she was sent to live with her grandparents in Summerhill, a poverty-stricken coalmining town in rural Pennsylvania.

“I lost a lot of self-esteem as a kid,” Sheila recalls. “Being one of the two poorest families in town, we were always hounded in this coal mining area. There was a lot of alcoholism in the family. My grandfather was an alcoholic and most of the kids in the family turned out to be alcoholics, including me, but not at that time…”

Sheila Jordan
Sheila Jordan


The Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs on the steps of the Canadian Embassy  overlooking the beginning of U.S.President Barack Obama's Inaugural parade. photo: © johnbeebe
The Nathaniel Dett Chorale performs on the steps of the Canadian Embassy overlooking the beginning of U.S.President Barack Obama's Inaugural parade. photo: © johnbeebe

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale is no stranger to prominent people and occasions: over its ten-year history, the Toronto-based choir has sung at events honouring Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Mohammed Ali. But last month’s engagements in Washington DC were in many ways unprecedented, thrusting the group onto the world stage.

“We were pleased and flattered by the invitations,” said the choir’s director, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor (with understated delight), shortly before his choir sang at the festivities surrounding Barack

Obama’s inauguration. “We not only represent Afrocentric music, but also a kind of diversity that’s responsive to Obama’s ideas about community and coming together.”

The only Canadian musical group to take part in the inauguration events, the choir performed on January 19 (Martin Luther King Day) at the Smithsonian Institution’s

Museum of the American Indian. On January 20 – the day of Obama’s inauguration – the choir sang a concert at the Canadian Embassy.

Read more: Nathaniel Dett Cover Story - February 2009

Major Web reno under way

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Welcome to and a word of caution as you proceed. As you’ll see, we’re in the process of renovation – going from an old html-driven clunker of a website – served us well for eleven years! – to something better suited to today’s realities and tomorrow’s hopes.

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