Claire P. Gordon


Claire Gordon was born in Los Angeles, California. Her book is about twins, a subject always intrigued her. As a baby Claire was raised with another child her own age, creating a feeling of being a twin.

She skipped through school, graduating from LA High when she was sixteen. Those years, dancing was the usual evening entertainment. Claire didn't care for the music favored by the fraternity and sorority members at UCLA, where she started college. She discovered the enticing beat of jazz on the radio. Broadcast from asstern night clubs and ballrooms introduced her to the catchy music of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.

She had another favorite, the singer Maxine Sullivan. One afteroon she heard Maxine was being interviewed at a local radio station. Claire jumped into her car and drove to the nearby Columbia studio. As she pulled near the front of the building, Maxine Sullivan walked down the steps. Claire left the car in a red space, jumped from her car.

"I am your number one fan," she told Miss Sullivan. Maxine sent her two autographed photos, which Claire had framed.

About that time, some cousins were transferring to UC Berkeley. Claire persuaded her parents to let her transfer there, as well. While she was at the northern campus she learned that Maxine Sullivan was singing at a posh San Francisco nightclub, renting a house in Oakland only a few blocks from her boarding house. Afternoon visits made her well acqqainted with her idol. Just Claire began to visit Maxine every afternoon after classes. Just a few days before graduation, Maxine mentioned that she would be leaving for New York soon, in her Rolls Royce, with the chauffeur and the maid. She invited her Claire to travel with them.

It took her about five seconds for Claire to accept but her parents pointed out some unpleasant facts. Her nationally famous friend would be unable to eat in most restaurants or stay in most hotels all across the country. Why? Because discrimination at that time had traveled from the south in all directions. This seemed unbelievable and Claire would have gone anyway, but at age 20, she was still dependant on her parents. She reluctantly refused.

With the diploma in hand, she decided that she really didn't want the career as a a social worker for which she had trained and longed to do something in music. Those jobs didn't turn up and instead she was hired as a sales lady, manned a switchboard, and other positions she didn't like much. Evenings she wrote stories she tossed into a drawer or visited local, inexpensive nightclubs to hear jazz. A favorite destination was the Swanee Inn where Nat King Cole and his trio played six nights a week. Claire watched their agent pocket a percent of their pay every week.the light went on. She decided to be an agent. Live music was to be found in every little bar and night club. Claire made the rounds hoping to find a talent that had no agent.

By luck, a friend met Meade "Lux" Lewis the boogie-woogie piano player-who wanted to come west. Voila! Claire had a client, who she booked for ten weeks. And then that came to an end. Meanwhile the Duke Ellington band came to Los Angeles and stayed for weeks and months, in the Los Angeles area and even performed in a show called "Jump for Joy". Claire and other fans hung around the band stand, and went to all the record sessions, which was enough to get acquainted with the band members and Duke, himself.

An opportunity came along. Her newly divorced Aunt Jo liked the idea of having a record shop although her aunt was tone deaf. But Claire could order the records and take care of customers wile her aunt did the book work and pay roll. With Norman Granz helping to make up a first inventory, the record shop did very well at the start, but War took a toll. The male employees began to be drafted, there were no more phonographs to sell, and the store had a hard time surviving on the sale of 50¢ records.

Claire left Claire's Record Bar and went east. Maxine was there and the Duke Ellington band had a long-time engagement in New York City as well. Because of her experience she became Commodore Record's first female employee. Evenings she hung around downstairs from the Hurricane Club where the Ellington band played, and chatted with the musicians when they came off for their break. She didn't know hardly anyone else in this big city. The only friends she had were the musicians and Maxine-all African Americans.

Claire loved working at Commodore until the real owner of the store, the father of the family, returned from his Florida winter vacation. When he saw a young woman behind the counter, he raised objections, and took the first opportunity he could to terminate her.

Far from home, supporting herself on her earnings and with no savings, Claire felt desperate. She went that evening to her usual hangout, hoping for words of sympathy from the musicians. She watched them come down stairs from the Hurricane club. That night, Duke Ellington was with them. He had never come down with them before.

He greeted Claire, who by then he had seen so many times standing in front of the bandstand and at record session. She responded by bursting into tears and telling him her sad story.

"Do you know any kind of work for me?" she asked and told him of her skills including secretarial.

"I don't have a secretary" he said. "Would you like to work for me and take care of the fan mail?" And that is how she became Duke Ellington's first and probably only secretary.

While working there, she met the young songwriter, Irving Gordon. They began seeing each other and after a year, they married. A visit to the family in Los Angeles ended by a permanent move west for the young couple and baby made three. Irving's career flourished as he turned out many songs. One that he placed with a publisher was a disappointment because the company was unable to get anyone to record the song.

When Claire heard this, she picked up the phone. Her old friend Nat Cole had become a big celebrity but not too big to remember his long-time fans.

"My husband has a song I'd like you hear," she told him.

"Come on over," he said. He looked at the sheet music, played the notes and sang the words. "I'll record this for you, Claire," he said. The tune was "Unforgettable."

The marriage with Irving lasted another ten years before it came to an end. Claire found work as a real estate saleswoman and moonlighted as an editor. Her old friend, Rex Stewart, former cornet player with the Duke Ellington band, was now in California. He had been asked to write reviews for the LA Times but he didn't type, and although he was a great wordsmith, his spelling skills lacked accuracy. Claire became his editor and co-writer. Together they also wrote more than a dozen articles for Down Beat and other music magazines.

After Stewart's death these articles were collected and became the book called "Jazz Masters of the 30's." Although her name did not appear as author, Claire received a share of the royalties all the 30 years that the book was in print.

Claire remarried, actor and television announcer Ken Williams. On the advice of their business manager, they opened an antique shop. Claire became the buyer; she did the advertisements, and learned to put all the data in a computer in 1981.

Kenny died in 1984. Claire sold the company, and being lonely, joined a newly formed Duke Ellington Society, sure of finding like-minded friends here. She met Steven Lasker who came to her house for a visit.

"Can I see your Ellington stuff?" he asked.

Boxes full of papers and photos were on a high shelf in the closet. Tall Lasker lifted them down, pawed through the papers, "You have a whole book here," he said. What he referred to was Rex Stewart's autobio which he had been writing and they had begun working on together before his death.

"Why don't you get it down?" Lasker asked, fingering the scribbled on yellow legal sized pads plus many little scraps of paper. "You know how to do word processing on the computer, don't you?"

And that is how Claire began putting the pieces of the book together that became "Boy Meets Horn, the Autobiography of Rex Stewart."British Allen Shipton had a company called Bayou Press and arranged to have the book printed by University of Michigan Press. He urged her to do more autobiographies. "Marshal Royal, Jazz Survivor" was next.

Shipton also had a role with a British company, which showed interest in her own jazz memoirs and spoke about a contract. During a visit to New York in 2002, the editor from their local office visited her hotel and promised a contract within the month. It never came the man left the company.

Another publisher also offered a contract but only if all the photos were ganged in the middle and none would be in color. Since the book was already completed with pictures embedded in with along with each story, she passed. Self-publishing had become an option. If no company was ready to print the book as she wanted it, Claire went ahead and did it herself.

After that, she wrote articles about early Los Angeles days (and left them in a drawer along with the other books and articles that had never been presented to anyone). She finally began the book that had been tugging at her mind all those years- a book about twins. Studies of identical twins that had been separated showed that many traits are inborn. Others the result of environment. But what would happen if the twins were mixed race, one raised as white and one as black.

Claire claims that the characters came to life and the story wrote itself. Recently published, "The Color of Music" has been given 5 stars by Kindle readers, and equally high praise by others. It is currently available for purchase through Amazon. output for more than a year, "My Unforgettable Jazz Friends." This was a Claire's own memoir.